Theatre Reviews - Aug. 7-13, 1997

"Mendel & Moses" *

(Produced by Wendy & Jeremiah Ginsberg for The Passover Company;
Canon Theatre, 205 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills.
Opened July 21; closes August 31, 1997.)

Modern Brooklynite Mendel Moskowitz kvetches that the Passover is being trivialized, the spiritual meaning of the Seder in danger of getting lost. Archangel Gabriel appears at God's behest and, whoosh! - we're in for time travel back to ancient Egypt to witness Moses' deliverance of God's chosen people from Pharaoh's cruel bondage - however many miracles it takes.

Jeremiah Ginsberg's jolly Jewish epic musical itself has traveled some; across town to Beverly Hills, where it enjoys a vibrant reincarnation, embellished with a couple of nifty new songs and dances, five new actors in its now all-Equity cast, and shortened by 35 minutes. New to the cast, acrobatic actor Gary Morgan is boyishly ingratiating. He couldn't be more right as the Candide-like Jewish Everyman, Mendel. Jesse Garnee remains a fine figure of a Moses, charmingly modest, God's favorite good and faithful servant. As his wife Zipporah, Heidi Heller sings beautifully and poignantly... J.T. Moye, fresh from a national tour as Miss Saigon's "Dragon Acrobat," dances up a storm as a mean old Egyptian slave driver...

Dan Collins, with Joe Giuffre and Daniel Otero, again wows us with his terpsichorean expertise in "Leeks, Onions & Garlic," the lively number that gets the show's biggest hand. Dancin' Dan also entones the portentous voice of God...

Still the baddie you love to hate and can't help loving, handsome Ned York glitters... as that control freak, Pharaoh... and Moses must pull off a miracle or two to keep him in line...

Playwright/composer/lyricist Ginsberg directs his musical with a light, sometimes vaudevillian, touch and infuses it with good-natured humor. Zesty, classy and terrific choreography by Wally and Tanya Everett-Bagot propels the show all the way through... Darrin Degenhardt's musical direction does justice to Ginsberg's excellent music.

The show's tone may not always be strictly reverential, but it knows its Torah and is not only enjoyable and entertaining, but edifying as well. Still with its feet on the ground, its heart in the heavens and that irrepressible twinkle in its eye, Mendel & Moses is on the side of the angels and good for what ails a sickened society.

* Critic's Choice --Polly Warfield

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