His Jewish roots and love of family speak volumes to anyone who shares his heritage, or is part of a close-knit family with immigrant parents who came here in search of a better life or freedom from persecution; and to anyone who grew up in an inner city neighborhood in the ‘60’s, playing stick ball and punch ball.
This one-man extravaganza celebrates what it meant to be a post-WWII Jewish American, dealing with the old-school values and attitudes of immigrant parents. The entertainer’s parents, Jonah and Bella, were holocaust survivors from Poland.
“Families like mine had to learn to live again and laugh again,” he says. “When I was growing up, baseball was very important to me; I needed American credentials to offset the fact that my parents were immigrants.”
A Jew Grows in Brooklyn is a hilariously funny, satirical autobiography about Jacob (“Yanke,” in Yiddish), an inner city kid from East Flatbush, who loved Mickey Mantle and dreamed of becoming an all-American guy, like his peers.
He attended Samuel J. Tilden High School. The show is a time capsule chronicling the entertainer’s life events, highlighted with large screen black and white photos of his bar mitzvah and awkward adolescence, the hey days of his family’s upstate Catskill summers, where he displays a photo of his dad wearing “a costume” consisting of tan bathing trunks with black socks and shoes, his rock ‘n roll years as a musician with really long hair, his outdoor wedding, where he swears that ghosts of relatives who passed were there to witness the happy event. The final photo was of his now 13-year-old son, Joseph, as a young boy.
After a year and a half on Broadway and a two-year coast to coast tour, the dazzle of the great white way comes to Queens. The Queens Theatre in the Park, in association with GFour Productions, presents Jake Ehrenreich’s critically acclaimed production A Jew Grows in Brooklyn—from July 28—Aug.21.
With a depiction of his family’s home and stoop as a stage backdrop, Ehrenreich skillfully combines his renditions of ‘60’s pop hits, like “California Dreamin’,” “Secret Agent Man,” and “Sunshine of your Love,” with a powerful drum solo, and shows off his musical talent on the trumpet and trombone.
Sporting a sequined jacket, the performer’s spoof of the charismatic lounge singers who were very popular in the Borscht Belt, got a lot of laughs from the audience. Back in the day, the Catskill’s grand resort hotels spawned some of the greatest singers and comedians in the entire world; Jerry Lewis got his start there. They were also known for their endless smorgasbords.
Ehrenreich recounts school day afternoons, when at times, he would come home and see his mother sitting at the kitchen table with tears in her eyes, as she shared stories about her family, who perished during the holocaust. “She lived in the past and had a hard time moving forward,” he says. Her negative outlook taught him to deal with life in a very positive way and work around the challenges.
“Everybody has challenges; the lesson in life is to still find joy and stay productive in spite of them.” Tragically, his mother and one sister passed from early onset Alzheimer’s, while another sister is now struggling with the last stages of the disease.
“It has been such a gratifying experience to tell this story with as much joy, gratitude and love as possible,” said Ehrenreich.
According to its playwright, the show may be coming back to Broadway in April, and the upcoming PBS documentary is about 80 percent done. It contains snippets from the show, and live, on location footage of the things and places he talks about (Brooklyn/Catskills/Children of survivors, etc).
The feature film is on a related topic (he’s had several meetings in L.A.) and the treatment has gone to Billy Crystal, as well as others. He also had an initial meeting with Adam Sandler.
Tickets for the show are $39.50 - $49.50 at the Box Office or by phone: 718-760-0064. Tickets can also be bought at www.queenstheatre.org. Performances: Thurs. 2pm/8pm; Friday 8pm; Sat. 2pm/8pm; Sun. 2pm/6pm. Queens Theatre in the Park is located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Flushing.