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Old Wicked Songs

New Jewish Theater, 2016

Chris Gibson – Broadway World

Music has the power to move people in many different ways. As someone who plays a variety of instruments, I can speak firsthand about the ways it's made me feel, and the ways in which I've seen it affect others. I'm certainly no prodigy, and I've always been jealous of those who were born with gifts that I have to constantly work on to improve. Maybe that's one of the reasons The New Jewish Theatre's inspirational production of playwright Jon Maran's Old Wicked Songs, resonates so much with me. Full of surprising and moving revelations, this presentation is excellently conceived and executed. Issues of faith and identity abound in a play that absolutely demands your time and attention.

Stephen Hoffman was once a prodigy, but you can remain one for only so long before age turns you into just another skilled musician. Hoffman has encountered an artistic block, something I can relate to since it happens quite often when I'm trying to conjure up another review or song for public consumption. He travels to Vienna after a long layoff of performing, and while he thinks he will be working on his accompaniment technique, he instead finds himself under the tutelage of Professor Mashkan, who focuses his attention on singing. Utilizing Schumann's Dichterliebe, which reflects a certain degree of emotion and passion that are lacking in Hoffman, Mashkan is able to rekindle this spark. However, there is far more depth awaiting discovery in this wonderful work.

Will Bonfiglio is believable as Hoffman, and his reactions to Professor Mashkan seem honest and forthright, particularly when Mashkan is attacking Jewish Culture. Jerry Vogel is splendid as Professor Mashkan, driven to inspire his charge, while dealing with his own personal demons. The interplay between the pair is outstanding, and Schumann's compositions act as the glue that holds this story together. It's unclear, at first, what drives the initial anti-Semitism that Hoffman encounters from Mashkan, but it's a key to what will eventually cause them to deeply bond.

Tim Ocel's direction allows these actors to explore their emotions and motivations in ways that compel and intrigue. He's aided by Jeffrey Richard Carter's music direction, which is a very important element. Dunsi Dai's scenic design nicely captures the rehearsal studio space where the pair interact, while Michele Friedman Siler's costumes act as great fits for each character. Maureen Berry's lighting adds atmosphere and mood, and Kyra Bishop's props neatly flesh out the location.

With a title like Old Wicked Songs, you're probably thinking you'll be seeing something completely different in nature. Don't let that throw you. This is truly the kind of material that shakes you up and makes you reflect on the really important things in life. The best plays do.

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