Shalom, Shlemiel

Today we gave the final concert performance of Shlemiel The First at Theatre J. We had five days of rehearsal and six performances, and normally I would be glad when one of these “quick and dirty” productions is over because they’re hard work without a lot of payoff.

Not this one, though. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had so much fun in so little time. First, the folks at Theatre J couldn’t have been nicer, from Artistic Director Ari Roth on down. Second, it was great to work with Nick Olcott again – and thank goodness, I’ll be spending a lot more time with him in the next few months when we start work on The Brand New Kid at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday. Third, it was great to work again with old pals David Elias, Alex Tang, Amy McWilliams, Dwayne Nitz and that prankster Dan Manning.

But what was best about doing this show were the new friends I made. What an extraordinary group! To begin with, how often do you get to work with the likes of violinist Daniel Hoffman, who came all the way from Tel Aviv to play for us? Or David Julian Gray, klezmer maven and clarinetist extraordinaire? To hear them play every night was sheer pleasure, and nothing short of fantastic.

And then there’s the fun of working with up and coming young talent. Those who saw Max Talisman in Caroline, Or Change at Studio last season know he’s got a great set of chops; what you might not know is that Max is a gifted comedian. Schtick for schtick Isabel Thompson was right there with him – they are two of the funniest, most laid-back kids I’ve ever worked with.

Ah, and then there were the gentlemen of the production. I’ve known Rob McQuay through his wife Chan for years, but this was our first time working together – a delight. Same for Peter Gil, who I’ve also known more years than I care to count. Howard Stregack took time off from being a new daddy to bring his talents to the Shlemiel family.

And finally there’s Theatre J Technical Director Tom Howley. Good lord, why is this man behind the scenes? How lucky to have him in the title role! Lovely voice, terrific actor and a genuine sweetheart to work with (that’s him waving in the background, with Howard, Dwayne, Rob and Dan in the foreground). In all, it was one of the happiest companies I’ve worked with in a long while. Great music, good story, good friends… what more could you want – besides a longer run?

Kol Tuv, Shlemiel. L’hitraot.

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