THERE IS NO better way of saying it. You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy "Those Were The Days." You don't have to speak Yiddish, either. Some of the revue is done in Yiddish, but if you know a little German, it is easy enough to grab, and for those who don't know any German, there are translations, here and there.
"Those Were the Days," which opened last evening at Center Stage, is a delight, beginning to end. A collection of Yiddish-Jewish songs, dances and jokes that are part of the Jewish heritage, it is almost irresistible.
When the show begins, we are back in the shtetls of Europe, where Jewish life seemed to have had a sameness, no matter the country.
The second act is more contemporary. It is more music hall, a collection of jokes, songs and dance routines that were part of the Yiddish theater that flourished in New York and other places when the century was younger and before the American Jews began their dispersal about the land.
The first act includes bits of song, comedy and drama about life as it was in the shtetls. The second act brings us songs that were given broader recognition by the Andrews Sisters and by Mary Hopkin, the young woman who recorded for the Apple label way back when. It was Hopkin who recorded "Those Were the Days." It was the Andrews Sisters who did "Bei Mir Bistu Schoen" ("To Me You Are Beautiful") and "Yousl, Yousl," an unmarried lady's plea to the man she would marry.
When the Andrews girls did the second song, it was "Joseph, Joseph," but it is just as enjoyable as "Yousl, Yousl," particularly Eleanor Reissa sings. Reissa also does "My Yiddish Mame" which belonged, more or less, to Sophie Tucker, but again, you'll enjoy it as much at Center Stage where the performers, Reissa, Bruce Adler, Lori Wilner, Mina Bern and Robert Abelson are the talent, and that, they are.
Abelson sings the Yiddish version of "Figaro's Aria" from "The .. Barber of Seville" and Adler does the show-stopping "Rumania, Rumania." Adler also tells a lot of jokes that were popular in the Yiddish theater and elsewhere, and if you've heard them, it's nice to hear them again. Bern does an immensely amusing turn as a Jewish mother who is boarded, four months at a time, by her three children. One of the jokes she tells is also part of the Catholic lore. It really is a small world.
"Those Were The Days" is the conception of Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld, who have collaborated on other English-Yiddish musicals. This one opened in Los Angeles where it ran for eight weeks, then went to New York, where it did 18 weeks at the Edison Theater. This is the New York cast. The Baltimore engagement is the beginning of a road tour.
The producers were considering doing the show at the Mechanic, but wiser heads prevailed, and it was booked, instead, at Center Stage. It belongs there. This is a small &L; musical, one that would be lost at the Mechanic. At Center Stage, it is completely at home. If you like this kind of music, if you like these jokes, get to it, quickly.
"Those Were the Days," which, at times, plays like a tab version of "Fiddler on the Roof," will continue at Center Stage for two weeks.
"Those Were The Days"*** A revue of Yiddish music, humor and dance through the ages.
CAST: Bruce Adler, Mina Bern, Eleanor Reissa, Robert Abelson, Lori Wilner
DIRECTOR: Eleanor Reissa
RUNNING TIME: Two hours and five minutes with one intermission
! TICKETS: 332-0033