2024-06-20 2:53 PM

Temple Rodef Shalom Brings Broadway to F.C. for Purim Holiday

Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.  As part of this commemoration, the Reform Jewish congregation decided to revive its first Purim Spiel, which took place in the year 2000. The Purim holiday itself focuses on the Book of Esther, in which the villain Haman seeks to destroy the Jewish people.  It is up to Queen Esther, at the urging of her uncle Mordecai, to save them.  Esther’s husband, Persian King Ahasuerus, turns his wrath instead on Haman.

The story conveyed in Esther, nearly resulting in the annihilation of the Jewish people, is a very somber one, yet the Purim Spiel, as director Yoni Bronstein notes, is tongue-in-cheek, has a bit of fun with the story, and makes this ancient narrative accessible to a modern audience.  Last year Mr. Bronstein chose the theme of Billy Joel songs; the year before, during the pandemic, Temple Rodef Shalom celebrated its Purim Spiel online with a “Phantom of the Opera” pastiche.  The theme for 2023 is Broadway in a Purim production written in New York by Norman Roth.  

The Book of Esther is dramatized with humor, interspersed with music from Broadway musicals such as “Guys and Dolls,” “Hello, Dolly,” “Funny Girl,” “The Pajama Game,” “A Chorus Line,” and, of course, “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

The songs are sung with lyrics tailored to the Esther Megillah (or scroll), the Purim holiday, and Jewish tradition.  “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” becomes “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Rabbinate;”  Vashti, the King’s first wife who disobeys him, “doesn’t have heart,” sung to the tune of “(You’ve Got to Have) Heart” from “Damn Yankees;” and Pal Joey’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” becomes the Yiddish “Farmesht, Fartummeled, and Farblondget,” which Mr. Bronstein translates as “Confused, Bewildered, and Aimless.”  The piece is sung wonderfully by Jen Jacobson as Vashti.

In addition to song parodies, the performance is replete with references to (and short musical snatches from) other Broadway tunes, including “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from “Evita” and “Food, Glorious Food” from “Oliver.”  

Jason Steinbaum as the Book of Esther’s villain Haman, costumed as a gangster from the Broadway classic “Guys and Dolls.”(Photo: Cordelia Dreisonstok)

The Rodef Shalom troupe performing Esther has had two rehearsals per week for a month and a half, includes musical accompaniment of a somewhat klezmer bent (piano, clarinet, trombone, bass, drums, and even a melodica), and features congregation members as actors.  Stage performers include Danielle Feist as Esther, Leslie Jacobson as Mordecai, Janice Zucker as King Ahasuerus, and Jason Steinbaum as Haman.  We had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Steinbaum dressed as a gangster from “Guys and Dolls,” proving that the villain trope is universal and timeless!

For further information on Rodef Shalom’s modern, fun way to explore an ancient biblical text—“The Megillah According to Broadway!”—please visit the Temple’s website at: Home | Temple Rodef Shalom  Purim is celebrated on March 5 and 6 and also includes holiday moments at Rodef Shalom such as a more traditional reading of the Book of Esther as well as a Purim Carnival.

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