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Jewish Hollywood Upstairs At The Gatehouse | Review

Jewish Hollywood is the latest in Chris Burgess’s series of Jewish-themed revues following on from The Great Jewish American Songbook, That’s Jewish Entertainment etc. This iteration does what it says on the tin and tells the story of the movie moguls such as Samuel Goldwyn, Jack Warner and Harry Cohn who laid down the foundations of the Hollywood movie industry and those that followed in their footsteps. It’s an amazing story of how recently arrived penniless immigrants who left their homes in Europe to move to America to get away from pogroms, antisemitism and genocide saw an opportunity in flickering images to make some money and rise up from poverty to become some of the richest men (and it was only men) in the world.

Jewish Hollywood - Photo credit - Louis Burgess.
Jewish Hollywood – Photo credit – Louis Burgess.

Unfortunately, Jewish Hollywood fails to tell the audience anything that isn’t common knowledge and has been told via films and documentaries on numerous occasions. It looks as if it’s been cobbled together after some research on Wikipedia and at times seems muddled and unfocused. It starts off telling the story of those immigrants who built Hollywood and then meanders forward stopping around 1967 with a couple of songs from Mel Brooks’ The Producers although there are mentions of some of today’s Jewish movie stars, writers and directors towards the end. The dialogue is clichéd, trite and just plain dull – there are very few laughs in the two hour (plus interval) running time. Visually there are four chairs for the four performers and a few props but that’s about all.

There are a lot of songs (nearly 40 although often it’s just a sung phrase or two) mainly but not only from the many Jewish composers and songwriters but these are often used out of context such as “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” from Kander and Ebb’s 1966 musical Cabaret is used to illustrate the rise of the Nazis in 1936 as well as other examples of anachronisms that litter the show.

The things that do work (and there are not many) are the potted versions they do of the original 1927 version of The Jazz Singer and the 1960 film of Leon Uris’s bestseller Exodus. These two sketches tell the stories of the films at farcelike, breakneck speed and are funny and really well written and performed – if only there had been more moments like these.

The cast of four, Sue Kelvin, MacKenzie Mellen, Jack Reitman and Howard Samuels are all very good and do their best with the material they’ve been given. They’re ably backed by a band of four led by Musical Director Amir Shoenfeld although from my seat, the sound balance wasn’t right and they tended to drown out the voices especially when they were underscoring the dialogue.

There’s an interesting and fascinating tale to be told about Jewish performers, writers, composers, songwriters, producers and directors and the struggles they faced due to their religious beliefs – unfortunately, Jewish Hollywood is neither interesting nor fascinating – this is more of a dull TED talk with musical interludes!

2 gold stars

Review by Alan Fitter

The Jews of Hollywood invented the ‘American Dream’. Although they came from poverty-stricken shtetls, they ended up in Californian mansions. And they sold the world a ‘Technicolor’ fantasy version of American life.

A Musical Revue
Script by Chris Burgess
Direction and Choreography by Cressida Carré
Musical arrangements by Andy Collyer
Musical Direction by Amir Shoenfield
Starring: Sue Kelvin, MacKenzie Mellen, Jack Reitman and Howard Samuels

Jewish Hollywood, playing at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate, from 16 March – 17 April.

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3 thoughts on “Jewish Hollywood Upstairs At The Gatehouse | Review”

    1. I have just seen this production and thoroughly enjoyed it. The cast of four had stage presents ,charisma and terrific voices, the four musicians ( especially the lady percussionist ) were excellent.

  1. Laurence Blume

    Just saw this show and really enjoyed it! Think your review is a bit harsh, mate! And thought the cast and band both did a really great job!

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