THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Thursday, July 24, 1997
"Mendel & Moses"
Canon Theatre, Beverly Hills, through Aug. 31, 1997
by Ed Kaufman
After some success at the Century City Playhouse, the Jewish biblical musical "Mendel & Moses" (with its cast of 21) has crossed the Red Sea and reached the Promised Land. Or, in more contemporary terms, has moved from Pico Boulevard to Canon Drive in Beverly Hills.
And it's still charming and full of wit and wisdom. It's certainly not "Ragtime," nor is it meant to be. Wendy and Jeremiah Ginsberg (he also directed and composed all the music) have fashioned a modern biblical musical that tells the story of Mendel Moskowitz (the likable and comic Gary Morgan), a Brooklyn Jew who is transported back to ancient Egypt for some epic biblical adventures/misadventures with Moses (the no-nonsense Jesse Garnee) and the children of Israel.
All starts at a traditional Passover Seder in Brooklyn, a gastronomic orgy of gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket, etc. And there's even some reading of the Old Testament by the Seder guests - just enough to scratch the surface of their own Judaism.
Only Mendel, the true believer amongst them, chides his family for "passing over" the true meaning of the Passover Seder. "Better I should have lived in the times of Moses," he laments. And shazam! - the angel Gabriel appears and whisks Mendel back in biblical time to ancient Egypt, where the wise-cracking Mendel is suddenly united with the children of Israel and their journey from slavery to the Exodus, from the Ten Commandments to the edge of the Promised Land and the death of Moses. Sort of a Jewish version of "Godspell" blended with "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."
Along the journey, the writers Ginsberg have fashioned a fable that is full of humor, drama, satire, song and dance. Some of the 20-plus songs are touching, such as the "Little Bird" duet sung by Moses and his wife, Zipporah (the talented Heidi Heller). Some are loosely based on biblical text: "Frogs" (sung by the gifted Ned York as the Pharaoh) and "Leeks, Onions & Garlic" - a first-rate sendup by Dan Collins, Joe Giuffre and Daniel Otero; while some songs are serious and come directly from the Old Testament words of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Isaiah. A bit of something for everyone!
Credit Wally and Tanya Everett-Bagot for the choreography and musical staging of a show worth seeing.
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