Los Angeles Theater Review: WHEN YOU’RE IN LOVE, THE WHOLE WORLD IS JEWISH (Greenway Court)

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by Tony Frankel on March 8, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

WHAT WERE JEW THINKING?

Baby boomers should recall the time when a great comedy album could be played with regularity. Some of my favorites were Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow…Right! (1963), which contained his iconic “Noah” sketches; George Carlin’s Class Clown (1972) with its infamous track entitled “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”; and anything from Allan Sherman, especially My Son, the Folk Singer (1962) and My Son, the Nut (1963), famous for the hit novelty song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.”

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish" at Greenway Court in L.A.

Buried amongst these gems was When You’re in Love, the Whole World is Jewish (1966), which also had a novelty song, “The Ballad of Irving,” a parody of Lorne Greene’s song “Ringo.” Sung by radio and TV personality Frank Gallop, the sendup about a Jewish cowboy is so enduring that it is included on Dr. Demento’s 20th Anniversary Collection. The ethnic comedy hot-seller, a follow-up to You Don’t Have to be Jewish (1965), was nothing more than a series of jokes, sketches and short blackout skits about the tribe responsible for keeping any crappy entertainment alive if it has the word “Jew” in the title. Sure, some of the material was skimpy and the tracks incohesive, but writer/producer Bob Booker (the guy responsible for the 1962 good-natured parody album about JFK and brood, The First Family) handed over the material to character actors the likes of Lou Jacobi, Betty Walker, Phil Leeds and a then-unknown Valerie Harper.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish" at Greenway Court in L.A.

Now, film producer Danny Gold and stand-up artist/writer Billy Riback have enlisted Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander to direct the theatrical version of the two Jewish albums. Together, they turned a celebration of classic Jewish humor into a yarmulke-encrusted piece of dreck that is as unleavened, flat and stale as the Matzo cracker no one found at last year’s Seder. The entire enterprise feels like something that would be assembled by octogenarian do-gooders for the Havurah fundraiser at Del Webb’s Sun City.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish" at Greenway Court in L.A.

One would hope that Gold, Riback and Alexander (all of whom wrote additional material) would have somehow reimagined the skits for the theater in such a way that it made sense to anyone other than the Red Hat club. Instead, the boys came up with a thin premise that has a temple congregation explaining to a dumb shiksa the ways of all things Semitic before she marries her Jewish boyfriend, yet the sketches are in no particular order and seem even more inchoate than the albums.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish" at Greenway Court in L.A.

On top of that, a mish mosh soup of wonderful performers, including Barry Gordon and the original Pot Mom, Ellen Ratner, offers shamefully broad acting with indecently weird timing. But there is no logical explanation for this, unless you consider that a different celebrity appears in the “Reading of the Will” sketch each night; on the evening I attended, onto the stage from the audience walks Norm Crosby, who looks like a million bucks, especially against that 49 cent set (David Pascal’s chintzy design contains cardboard cutouts of menorahs covered in gold tin foil and the back wall is schmeared in Hanukkah wrapping paper). Because Crosby outshined the other cast members with deft delivery, one can only assume it was because there was no rehearsal with Alexander.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish" at Greenway Court in L.A.

Therein lays the disgrace of the entire affair. With the L. A. Times and others drooling over Alexander’s participation in this overdone brisket, their puffery caused the show to sell out before it even opened, which has led to an extension. The show itself is not a feel-good experience, but I suspect that the target audience won’t care because it will remind them of a time when character-driven, unpretentious, Catskills-type humor was once thought to be timeless and forever. As I sunk embarrassedly in my chair, the woman behind me uttered before every sketch, “Oh, this one is hysterical,” and the man next to me was positively squealing. There is a sukkah born every minute.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema review of "When You're in Love, the Whole World is Jewish" at Greenway Court in L.A.

photos courtesy of Bagel and Yuks Productions

When You’re in Love, the Whole World is Jewish
Greenway Court Theatre
scheduled to end on March 31, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.worldisjewishtheplay.com

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