“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”

“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”: Jewish Female Identity in America conveyed through Fanny Brice & Barbra Streisand

By: Neekta Pico

The highly acclaimed 1968 production of Funny Girl, directed by William Wyler and starring Barbra Streisand, candidly conveys the plight of Jewish Immigrants yearning to assimilate into American society. The film follows Fanny Brice on a tumultuous yet rewarding journey from her Lower East Side neighborhood to the cut-throat world of Broadway theatre. Brice is eager and nonconformist in nature but also realistic as she quickly comes to terms with the stereotypes, greed, and narrow-minded thinking that lie beneath all the glamour. Throughout the production, she grapples with upholding her Jewish values and persona, as she refrains from conforming to societal standards that restrict women in theatre.

Fanny Brice stands powerful as the sole character in the performance who challenges beauty standards and embraces her race, using it to differentiate herself from the abundance of thin, blondes in the industry. This quandary stands out notably, early in the film, in the song “If A Girl Isn’t Pretty.” Brice is beginning on her journey to stardom and feels confident in her quirky self prior to being turned down for the Follies. She embraces her “Jewish” nose, her Yiddish accent, her shorter height, and brown hair. The number, sung by women in her community, serves as her first harsh reminder of the criticisms that lie in the outside world, particularly within the Broadway community.

Mrs. Strakosh advises Fanny prior to singing, “When people pay good money in the theatre – especially the male element – they want something to look at!” (If A Girl Isn’t Pretty) The neighborhood women, friends of Fanny and her mother, elaborate on the plight of females in the spotlight. It becomes clear that one cannot be too funny, too uninteresting, too average-looking. After hearing such criticism from members of the community whose opinions are valued by Fanny, it is uplifting to see her disregarding the commentary and holding her head tilted upwards and high throughout the entire song.

She must shine in ev’ry detail
Like a ring you’re buying retail
Be a standard size that
Fits a standard dress

-“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”

Through this song, the guidelines for the physical characteristics and personality of women are outlined for Fanny and the audience. Jewish friends of the family who want the best for Fanny are warning her, as she enters the industry, of the limitations she will face. Her own mother questions, “Is a nose with deviation such a crime against the nation?” after reflecting on Fanny’s unique form of beauty. Her mother is hopeful, Mrs. Strakosh and friends are critical, and most significantly, Fanny is untroubled and poised. It becomes clear, throughout this song, that the industry is founded on a narrow sense of beauty first and foremost. At the time of the production, it was nearly impossible to be a successful Jewish female actress. Fanny proceeds to understand what her family was referring to as she takes the stage alongside blonde, bony, tall, and porcelain performers. Yet, amongst all the madness and critiques, Fanny defies the odds and establishes herself as a flourishing star who gains recognition for much more than merely her appearance.

As the women are singing to Fanny, she projects, “The whole world will look at me!” as she dreams about stardom and finally gaining recognition for her talents. The audience sees a confident Fanny freshening up and waltzing away from the negative banter occurring in her home and we appreciate her positivity. This vibrance does not subdue in Brice, as she fights to stay true to herself throughout the entirety of the production.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the limitations mentioned in the song were authentic. Brice, a child of Jewish immigrants, struggled with her Jewish identity throughout her entire life. As a child, she yearned after a career in show-business and was determined to grasp fame. Throughout her career, she took stood out as a bold, eccentric actress, yet often succumbed to societal limitations in theatre. She was born as Borach, yet changed her last name to Brice to Americanize her image. (Grossman) Very controversially, Brice also underwent a rhinoplasty, replacing her “Jewish” nose. In response to her actions, Brice was quoted saying “No woman on the stage today can afford to have a nose that is likely to keep on growing until she can swallow it” (Schrank). In the 1920’s, it was rare to succeed as an outwardly “Jewish-looking” actress, prompting Brice to wash evidence of her race away in pieces. The battle with the barriers limiting the job Fanny dreamed of in an industry that discouraged an ethnic female presence was continuous.

It is uncommon to find an actress who bears strong synergies to the character she is portraying as Streisand did to Fanny Brice. Her character is a complement to Streisand’s own experiences, disposition, and troubles. Born in Brooklyn in 1942 and pursuing show-business immediately after high-school, Streisand’s experience is parallel to Brice’s in many ways. She, as a young girl, had the same longing for stardom while facing similar barriers. She was recognized for her peculiar physical appearance and comedic nature in a society that showcased poised, blonde, tall female celebrities. Critics commended the correspondences between the two stars in Funny Girl: “She achieves Brice’s essence while also conveying her own, not by mugging or even particularly impersonating Brice but by inhabiting the character and thus deepening it through her own consummate and inquisitive playing” (Tribeca film). Both actresses experienced the struggle of transitioning from an underdog in terms of gender, race, and financial status to a remarkable star. In her portrayal in Funny Girl, Streisand shed light on her own insecurities and path to fame while bringing fervor to Fanny’s character.

About My Nose, Barbra Streisand

Streisand, Brice, and many Jewish-American females alike were victims of typecasting and discrimination. In the eye of the public, they were seen as Jews first and celebrities second. In a review by Michael Scott Alexander, he mentions Streisand, “Sometimes the Jewishness of Kaufman’s celebrities of the 1960s was obvious and nurtured, as in the cases of Lenny Bruce and Barbara Streisand, who intentionally continued earlier “stage Jew” type performances by utilizing copious amounts of shtick” (Alexander)Bryce and Streisand’s characters were defined by the minority they belonged to and their success, time after time, stemmed from playing the Jewish role. Societal integration was hindered by xenophobia deeply woven into American society. America was, and still is, a nation where “white-ness” is associated with superiority and females are deemed as lesser than males. Thus, Jewish females were often unable to avoid prejudices – between the “Jewish” nose, Yiddish accents, and dark curly hair. These physically evident traits place Jews in a grey area of race, teetering between being categorized as “white” or “ethnic.”

If a girl isn’t pretty
Like a miss atlantic city
All she gets in life
Is pity and a pat

-“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”

“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty” conveys the boundaries hindering the careers of Jewish women in show-business and the importance of conventional “whiteness” in 1960’s America. The stereotypes, put forward by most characters in Funny Girl were challenged by Brice and Streisand alike, contributing to their long-lasting legacy on Broadway and Hollywood. In his journal, “Reading Musicals,” Geoffrey Block wrote, “Musicals can tell us much about social attitudes and values, notably by demonstrating the limitations of social progress, especially when measured against evolving standards” (Block). Streisand’s portrayal of Brice resonates deeply with American females who belong to minority groups in any way. Her performance kickstarted the “Jewish New Wave,” an era defined by the ability of Jews to prosper as female celebrities. (Bernardi) In the 1960’s, Streisand became one of the first female Jewish stars to present a minority character to the American population.

Young fans connected with Streisand and Brice’s physical appearances, blunt statements, and almost untrained manners of singing. Objectively, both celebrities, in addition to many other famous Jewish actresses, were able to exploit their ingrained Jewish ethnicity and develop a prosperous and unique career. Spectators watched Fanny’s own mother sing, “Frumpy faces that could cause ya to have temporary nausea,” but are more in awe at her own will and confidence that does not die down. The song sheds light on both the binding stereotypes that limit females in minority groups and the opportunity for women such as Brice and Streisand to define themselves in the industry despite such setbacks.  Due to Funny Girl, the possibility to push past negative criticism and reach fame despite having unconventional beauty, differing ethnicities, and unique singing became clear to the public, changing the nature of the industry moving forward. Jewish Women, on and off Broadway alike, felt proud of their ethnic features and withheld from washing away traces of race.





Fiddler on the Roof: Love’s Triumph over Tradition

Fiddler on the Roof: Love’s Triumph over Tradition

Marisa Ben-Yishay

The extremely popular and highly esteemed Broadway Musical, Fiddler on the Roof, is famously recognized for its overarching theme and focus on Jewish tradition. The plot line of this musical explores and dives deep into Jewish identity, customs and relationships. During this difficult time in history, Jews all over the world were marginalized and persecuted for being who they were. In order to withstand these circumstances and maintain their religion, Jews had to hold on tightly to their traditions and values no matter what obstacles were thrown their way. However, as times were changing, some individuals were beginning to question some aspects of tradition, specifically the process of arranged marriage. While Fiddler on the roof beautifully illustrates Jewish traditions, it also portrays the evolution of established beliefs.

Tevya, a milk man, husband, and father of six, living in the small Russian village of Anatevka, felt extremely strongly about tradition. In fact, he sang about it and emphasized its importance multiple times throughout the play through his famous song, “Tradition.” Tevya never truly understood why tradition was the way it was, however he knew it was something he had to follow, hold onto, and instill into his daughters. Surrounded by a village that felt the same appreciation for Judaism, Tevya’s daughters were raised in a world where tradition was prioritized and widely practiced around them. Therefore, Tevya did not expect his three eldest daughters to choose the life paths that they ultimately do in the musical. To his disbelief, Tzeitzel, Hodel, and Chava eventually conclude that there is an aspect of life that is stronger than tradition: love.

When Tzeitzel, Hodel, and Chava come to the point in their lives where the idea of marriage turns into a reality, the typical match maker style of pairing a couple begins to seem less enticing to the three girls. Tradition says that the papa chooses who his daughters marry and the town’s match maker, Yenta, assists in identifying eligible men. In an article that explores the evolution of marriage, written by University of San Diego’s highly educated and experienced professor Linda Barkacs, it is stated that “Nowhere, is the myth of marriage as an unchanging cultural monolith more exposed than in the popular musical Fiddler on The Roof” (39). The article goes on to identify and explore the three breaks of traditional marriage carried out by the three daughters in Fiddler on the Roof. At the time, their defiance of tradition seems outrageous, however the author argues that, “by today’s standards nearly all of perceived prohibitions (marriage restrictions) would be regarded as archaic, if not absurd.” (40). The point of the author’s argument is not to debate the right or wrong nature of arranged marriages, it intends to show how many marriage traditions have changed and evolved over time. Unfortunately for Tevya, as he strictly abides by tradition, his three daughters recognize that the world around Anatevka is changing and that some normalcies are beginning to become obsolete. Therefore, all three of them put up a determined fight when choosing who they want to be with.

The popular song, “Matchmaker,” sung by the three eldest daughters, marks the first sign of the three girl’s resistance to the match making system. The song begins with Hodel and Chava longing for the matchmaker to find them a husband. They dream of being handed off to a man to take care of them and provide them with love and companionship. However, Tzeitzel, the eldest sister, quickly chimes in to expose the two girl’s naivete. She laughs at her sister’s professions and mocks their desires. By the end of the song, the once optimistic and eager Chava sings “Matchmaker, matchmaker, you know that I’m still very young, please, take you time,” while Hodel sings, “Up to this minute I misunderstood, that I could get stuck for good.” It is clear that by exposing the true realities of the match making system, Tzeitzel has prompted her younger sisters to question and fear the matchmaking process entirely. Therefore, the girls end up very doubtful of tradition and long to find someone to marry on their own.

As seen in the Matchmaker scene, Tzeitzel is the first daughter to show her dissatisfaction with this process and take a stand against this tradition. Being that she is in love with her lifelong friend, Motel, and has made a pledge to marry him, Tzeitzel feels that it is her right to make this decision. She believes that her strong connection with Motel should be enough to get her papa’s approval and she does not care that he isn’t rich or “highly qualified.” In her eyes, their love for each other should be enough, and plus he is still of Jewish heritage. Having already set Tzeitzel up with a wealthy old butcher, Lazar, Tevya greets Tzetizel’s request with much dissent, however he ultimately concedes and grants Tzeitzel and Motel his approval. This moment in the play in a very transitional point as it is the first occurrence of Tevya breaking the rules of traditional marriage.

Next in line comes Hodel, Tevya’s second eldest daughter, who falls inlove with the very liberal and exotic, Perchik. In this play, Perchik is seen to break tradition time after time. First, he comes in and asks to educate Tevya’s daughters. At this time in history, women were meant to nurture their families and take care of the home, not to be educated or literate.  However, Tevya agrees to let Perchik teach his daughters. Shortly after, Perchik breaks tradition again when he asks Hodel to dance at Tzeitzel’s wedding. Women and men touching in this way was absolutely forbidden, however it doesn’t take long for Perchik to break Hodel and gain her love and respect. Not only do Hodel and Perchik end up getting married without arrangement, they inform Tevya that they are doing so, instead of asking for permission. While Tevya is very unsettled with this arrangement, he eventually accepts this union. When Perchik is arrested and imprisoned in a faraway land, Hodel goes off to accompany him and sings a farewell song, “Far From the Home I Love.” In this melody, she explains to Tevya why she must go and expresses her love for her home and the sadness she feels in leaving it. While this transition is not comforting to Tevya, he sends her off with love and support.

Lastly comes Chava, who is an even more unique case. Like her sisters, Chava wants to choose her own companion and avoid the match maker system. However, Chava crosses the line even more than her sisters when she finds love with a Russian, Fyedka. While Tzeitzel and Hodel do break tradition simply by not agreeing to the arranged marriage process, Chava does the unthinkable by adding Non-Jew into the situation. Tevya warns her many times to stop conversing with Fyedka in the village and forbids their communication entirely. Therefore, when Chava expresses her love and desire to marry Fyedka, he simply entertains none of it. Tevya quickly and certainly disapproves this marriage and leaves no opportunity for Chava to argue with him. When she decides to be with Fyedka anyway, Tevya dismisses her from the family and declares her dead. He mourns his daughter through his song “Chavaleh,” but he does not change his mind. While Tevya was able to make concessions for his other daughters, considering that their significant others were of the Jewish faith, he is unable to accept Chava’s complete betrayal of the traditions and values of which he raised her on. In an article written by Keren McGinity, the topic of Jewish women and interfaith marriages is explored in depth. McGinity states that, “Although a hundred years ago Jews who intermarried were viewed as having been lost to Judaism, today there is growing awareness that Jewish women who intermarry are more likely to raise their children as Jews.” Therefore, while Tevya’s concerns are warranted at the time, it is proven that interfaith marriage has not prompted a decline in the practice of Judaism, it has actually done the opposite. Jewish women who marry out of their faith tend to feel more in touch with their Jewish heritage as they know that it is in their hands to maintain it. Therefore, they feel empowered and desire even more strongly to pass their customs and religious values down to their children.

While the main theme of Fiddler on the Roof does appear to be tradition, it is apparent that tradition is not as clear cut as it seems to be in the beginning of the play. As the plot unfolds, and times begin to change in Anatevka, traditions are questioned and adjusted. Tevya, the main follower and advocate of tradition, is tested throughout this play and forced to change his views and standards. Therefore, while it may seem like tradition is the main theme of this play, in most cases, love ultimately triumphs. When choosing their husbands, the three girls choose love over tradition every time. Likewise, in two of the three cases, Tevya chooses to love his daughters anyway despite traditional norms. There is still a line for Tevya, which Chava crosses, but his strictness of tradition from the beginning of the play to the end changes drastically. Tevya too recognizes that the world around him is changing and that adjustments are going to have to be made in order to maintain relationships and values. Also, as the production of Fiddler on the Roof evolved and changed throughout the years, the plot was adjusted according to the time. As stated in the article Following Tradition: Folklore in the Disclosure of American Culture, in the later renditions of Fiddler, “American ideals of individual rights, progress, and freedom of association are assimilated into the Judaic tradition which is presented as a cultural tradition parallel to the American.” Therefore, while it is clear that tradition always sustained itself as the main theme of the play, it is also important to note how certain aspects had to be changed given the time of production. All in all, in all of the play’s various productions, Fiddler on the Roof portrays a wonderful representation of the evolution of tradition and triumph of love.

“The Producers” – Humor, A Unique Channel for the Ability to Heal and Move Forward by Ben Reich

“The Producers” is a satirical comedy film created by Mel Brooks in 1967. “The Producers” was Mel Brooks’ directorial debut in Hollywood. It is considered to be a groundbreaking film, pushing the boundaries on dark humor and social norms. “The Producers” tells the story of two men Max Bialystock played by Zero Mostel and Leo Bloom played by Gene Wilder and their journey as Broadway Musical producers. Max was once one of the most popular producers throughout Broadway. However, his career fell apart due to his aging, greedy, fraudulent, and irresponsible behaviors. Leo is Max’s accountant who deals with severe anxiety and panic attacks. After discovering fraudulent numbers in Max’s finances, Leo comes to the realization that a producer can make a lot more money on a play that fails rather than one that experiences great success. Their plan is to create a broadway show so ridiculous and terrible that it closes immediately after opening night. They decide to create the play made by an estranged nazi sympathizer called Springtime For Hitler. The play celebrates Nazi Germany crushing the allied forces and the accomplishments of Hitler as a leader and as a person. To Max and Leo’s shock the audience found the play so ridiculous and humorous that there was a standing ovation.



Throughout all forms of entertainment there are various lines that are never supposed to be crossed. These lines constantly cross paths with comedy, which has a main purpose to test social norms and say the unimaginable.  Within society there are a handful of taboo topics that are rarely discussed at a conversational level. One of these topics, as addressed earlier, is the Holocaust. In “The Producers”, Mel Brooks decides to disregard these social norms to tackle the worst genocide of all time.


While humor has become a mainstream form of communication and entertainment, it is important to remember that while we consider comedy to be something that we merely enjoy, the etymology of comedy stems from something much darker.  Comedy is a response to society, and when dealing with the Holocaust, like many other devastating historical events, comedy is linked to addressing tragedy and creating dialogue in a more approachable setting. As Mark Twain once noted: “The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there is no humor in heaven.” Comedy is a lens through which we can examine our society. There has been debate about whether the use of humor in reference to the Holocaust is something that should be done. Perhaps it is still too soon. But, rather than looking at comedy as a break from the world and its history, we should continue to be willing to engage with comedians and humor to keep these important discussions alive.

THE PRODUCERS, producer Sidney Glazier, executive producer Joseph E. Levine, director Mel Brooks on set, 1968

It is human nature to resist talking about horrific events. Every aspect of the Holocaust is dark, depressing, and incomprehensible. While many people view the resistance in partaking in light conversations regarding the Holocaust as respectful, it actually can lead to an even darker aftermath. When people are afraid to address certain topics, they keep it locked away in the back of their head hoping to never cross paths with it. This is a dangerous train of thought when dealing with a catastrophe like the Holocaust. The Holocaust occurred 85 years ago, this means that sadly, in a few, years they will be no remaining survivors alive to tell their story. Without them and without conversations about the Holocaust, it will only be remembered as a tragic event that we read about in history books. This is a very scary thought—the struggles and horrors of the Holocaust need to be with us not only to pay our respects, but also to prevent future atrocities from occurring. While comedy may seem like a disrespectful and childish way of paying respects and raising awareness, it is actually a very productive channel. Comedy brings light to the darkness. Life cannot exist in total darkness, it needs light to grow, spread, and continue to have a profound impact on society. Mel Brooks’ fellow producer and Holocaust survivor, Robert Clary, is a prime example of this. When Clary was sent to a concentration camp in Poland, he began singing and telling jokes for his fellow prisoners. They were all in the worst conditions imaginable, however, they were still able to come together for these few moments of laughter and hope. Clary has stated many times that he and others would have not survived if it wasn’t for the comedy.


Comedy combines the past and the present to make sure nothing is forgotten. “Laughter is a weapon of confrontation, rather than a means of defense or escape, enabling us to face apocalyptic horror…The purpose of parody is to create a sense of continuity between the past and the present” (Montresor Studies In American Jewish Literature). Humor is a form of expression. It is a way of portraying history with a deeper message attached to it. In a society that relies on silence regarding the Holocaust it is up to artistic expression to continue the history of the Jewish Culture, and more specifically, the Holocaust.  “Even in the face of silence, form an ineluctable part of the human experience, and that the attempt to transform the legacy of Holocaust trauma into history will, no matter the format, continue in the future” (Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies). Studies show that avoiding traumatic event can only worsen problems and cause more stress. “Dismissing or ignoring the Traumatic experience is not a reasonable option, nor is holding an attitude of benign neglect” (Alexander Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma).

Mel Brooks took a huge risk by creating the movie “The Producers”. The Holocaust had only ended 22 years before the movie was released. Mel Brooks understood that his film would be met with a great deal of criticism and lack of understanding. However, Mel Brooks stood by his ideas. Brooks made it clear that “The Producers” was not making fun of the survivors but rather it was revenge against the Nazis. Mel Brooks has famously expressed the quote “revenge through ridicule.” By ridiculing the Nazis, he was taking away their power. Part of the reason that made “The Producers” so funny was the idea that how could someone possibly think that a musical about Hitler was ok. “The Producers” was not funny because it was about the Holocaust, but rather it was hilarious because of how outrageous and absurd the jokes are. People laughed because everyone understood that the Holocaust is one of the worst events ever to occur in human history, and were shocked that someone was pointing out the humor of it.

The performance of “Springtime For Hitler” is perhaps the most memorable scene from “The Producers”. “Springtime for Hitler” is the climax of the entire movie. “Springtime For Hitler” also includes the song “Hail Myself”. The song begins with a very cheerful musical score taking place in a town located in Germany. The community is dressed in extremely vibrant clothing as they begin cheerfully singing trying to find their leader: Hitler. An SS officer with bleach blond hair and bright blue eyes then enters the stage and begins singing. Some of his lyrics include “Springtime for Hitler and Germany, Deutschland is happy and gay” (“The Producers”). The production is extremely over the top which adds to the ridiculousness of the entire scene. A squad of Nazi soldiers then begin to break out into a tap dance sequence. A line that stands up from the song is “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi Party”. At this point the crowd is speechless and many get up and leave. It isn’t until Hitler enters the stage that the tides start to change. The character of Hitler is portrayed overwhelmingly feminine and almost like a diva. The audience begins to laugh and view the play as a raunchy comedy.

Rather than sitting back and allowing Hitler to win, Brooks decided to take a much more proactive approach. In an interview from 2009, Brooks says the following regarding his ‘unorthodox’ approach in his numerous works that either referenced or utilized Hitler as a character:

After all the people that he was responsible for killing and after utterly destroying half the world, I just thought the only weapon I’ve really got is comedy. And if I can make this guy ludicrous, if I can make you laugh at him, then it’s a victory of sorts. You can’t get on a soapbox with these orators, because they’re very good at convincing the masses that they’re right. But if you can make them look ridiculous, you can win over the people. I think that was the thrust of it. I knew I could have fun with him, with his little mustache. I saw Charlie Chaplin do it in “The Great Dictator.” I knew this was it, this was the road, it can be done. Chaplin just showed the way.

In a world filled with silence, Brooks’ challenged the accepted passivity in order to tackle this topic. In his mind, this strips Hitler of his power that he holds over us. This is a form of rebellion. It does not at all resemble the original response to the Holocaust, but in doing this, he is pushing back. 

There are two major factors that allow for comedy to be accepted in society. The first factor is time. With time people learn to heal and reflect and they are more open to different perspectives. Comedy is more accepted over time because the relevance of the joke isn’t so immediate. The second factor is context. Mel Brooks’ was a first generation child coming from Jewish European parents. He practiced Judaism his entire life and even fought against the Nazi’s as an extremely respected and valuable corporal in Germany.

This is a large reason why Jews were able to become so successful in the entertainment industry and especially comedy. Jews as a culture have a deep understanding of suffering and the true realities of our world. This understanding allows people to connect with audiences and tell jokes that truly resonate with them.

Work Cited

Montresor, Jaye Berman. “Parodic Laughter and the Holocaust.”Studies in American Jewish Literature (1981-), vol. 12, 1993, pp. 126–133. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41206185.

ALEXANDER, JEFFREY C., et al. “Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma.” Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, 1st ed., University of California Press, Berkeley; Los Angeles; London, 2004, pp. 1–30. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp9nb.4.




The Last Laugh







Yiddish Theatre

By Jack O’Brien

Yiddish theatre actress Molly Picon Performing “Bublitchki” in NYC (1930’s)

Throughout this semester we have studied the Jewish presence and influence in some of the major Broadway shows of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  However Jewish presence in this form of entertainment and expression has its roots in Yiddish theatre of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. While the height of the Yiddish theatre’s popularity among American Jews in New York City was brief, it’s history, role in assimilation, and lasting legacy all attest to its importance to the American Jewish story.  

Audience at the Grand Street Theatre in Manhattan (1904) a host of Yiddish theatre productions
Grand Street Theatre and street view of Manhattan (1905)

Jewish people from around the world have expressed themselves through performing arts for thousands of years, but Yiddish theatre as we think of it today was a phenomena of Jewish immigrant communities living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan beginning in the late 1800’s and continuing at its peak until the early 1940’s.  Yiddish theatre began “with its origin in Jassy Romania in 1876” (Stern 189). These Eastern European beginnings were humble and the art from was still in its infancy. Fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe and Russia, a massive wave of immigration to the United States took place and with these people came the Yiddish theatre.  Theaters began taking root in the new Jewish communities such as the lower East side of Manhattan where Yiddish theatre matured and became popularized in the community. According to author Aaron B. Seidman’s studies the first performance of Yiddish theatre in America took place in New York City’s Turn Hall in 1882 and there is a “general agreement that the first production ended in a dismal failure” (Seidman 70).  Despite it’s struggling early days, the popularity of the theatre in the Manhattan Jewish communities would soon take off as the reputation was changed from vulgar and showy “vaudeville” style productions to more high brow plays and a more popular and purer level of art (Warnke 323).  Eventually it would become one of the focal points of these new Jewish immigrant communities.

It is difficult to understand Yiddish theatre’s significance without a knowledge of some of its key characteristics.  It was known for a flamboyant style of acting that largely spoke to issues that most Jewish-American immigrants were experiencing at the time.  Audiences were often outspoken during performances and would find themselves laughing and crying as they could relate to the characters and situations being portrayed.  “Patrons felt pride in their Jewishness, as Jewish playwrights and actors expressed Jewish vitality. And Jewish playgoers shared the patriotic enthusiasm of the general American public when they cheered Boris Thomashevsky in Der Yidisher Yenki Dudl, or applauded the song “Three Cheers for Yankee Doodle,” typical genre pieces” (Sorin).  These themes highlighted the duality of being both an American and a Jew in a time when this group of mostly new immigrants was dealing with obstacles of assimilation and identity.  Just as later plays namely “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Funny Girl,” and others were able to help push the normalization and assimilation of “Jewishness” in American pop culture, the Yiddish theatre productions of the late 1800’s and early decades of the 1900’s helped Jews to normalize and portray their experiences even though it was an almost entirely Jewish activity at this time.  

Production crew for Yiddish drama “The Broken Hearts” at the Grand Theatre NYC (1903)

The relatable nature of the Yiddish theatre made it an extremely popular staple of American Jewish urban communities.  “The non-Jewish social historian Hutchins Hapgood reported in 1901 that “many a poor Jew, man or girl, who makes no more than $10 a week in the sweatshop, will spend $5 of it on the theatre” (M. G. 3).  The theatre spoke to these communities of Jews all of different backgrounds who could come together around relatable experiences. “It was the theater, Harold Clurman noted in 1968 that “even more than the synagogue or the lodge, became the meeting place and the forum of the Jewish community in America between 1888 and the early 1920s” (Nahshon).  The theatre’s importance cannot be overstated as it was, along with the synagogue, the bonding force of Jewish immigrant communities, allowing them to navigate their way through simulation together and express this experience through live performance.

Lower East Side, where many Jewish immigrants found themselves around the turn of the century (late 1800s)

While Broadway musicals are now the king of the theatre world, and we may not hear much about Yiddish theatre today, its legacy lives on.  Talented Jewish writers, producers, songwriters, actors, and others continue to entertain the masses through Broadway shows and other forms of entertainment in the U.S.  The Yiddish theatre served to help a community of immigrants develop a bond and a sense of community while simultaneously navigating assimilation to their new nation. Even as the Yiddish theatre is past its prime, which was only a few decades long, it displays the beauty of the assimilation and acceptance of Jewish people into American society.  While this assimilation was not achieved without overcoming severe discrimination and anti-semitism among other issues, the Yiddish theatre was the root from which Jewish presence in entertainment and popular culture was able to grow in the following decades.  Jewish-American talent is no longer seen as different or other, but rather as mainstream and predominant in our nation’s culture, and Jewish performance can continue to shine and reach a wider audience now than ever before.


Works Cited

Nahshon, Edna. “The History of Yiddish Theater.” Museum of Yiddish Theater, 2016, www.museumofyiddishtheater.org/the-history-of-yiddish-theater.html.

M. G. “Jewish Theatre Issue: An Introduction.” The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 24, no. 3, 1980, pp. 2–4. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1145304.

Seidman, Aaron B. “The First Performance of Yiddish Theatre in America.” Jewish Social Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, 1948, pp. 67–70. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4615276.

Sorin, Gerald. “Yiddish Theater in New York.” My Jewish Learning, My Jewish Learning, 2016, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/yiddish-theatre-in-new-york/.

Stern, Gail F. “Hooray for Yiddish Theatre in America!” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 8, no. 2, 1989, pp. 189–191. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27500710.

Warnke, Nina. “Immigrant Popular Culture as Contested Sphere: Yiddish Music Halls, the Yiddish Press, and the Processes of Americanization, 1900-1910.” Theatre Journal, vol. 48, no. 3, 1996, pp. 321–335. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3209042.

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel was born on May 30, 1971 in Syosset, New York. Menzel is Jewish, her first name translating to “gentle” in Hebrew. She is an actor and singer-songwriter, well known for her roles in Rent and Wicked. In addition to her fame on Broadway, she has also become quite popular among the younger demographic from her role in Frozen. Menzel has historically taken roles of strong, relatable, and empowering characters. Her hits “Let It Go” from Frozen and “Defying Gravity” from Wicked prove to be anthems among women of all ages.

But it didn’t all start this way. “Menzel was interested in singing and performing from her earliest days, but her parents would not let her work professionally as a child, so she appeared in amateur productions. By the time she was in fifth grade, she was playing Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard of Oz.” (Gale) (this is ironic!). Menzel began her career as a wedding and bat mitzvah singer. “‘I’d drive myself illegally with my junior license to the Temple Beth Shalom ballroom and work with all these older men,’ she told Boris Kachka for New York magazine” (Rich 365). She continued her music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. After many years of weddings and playing in bands, Menzel landed her first major role as Maureen, a bisexual performance artist, in Rent in 1996. Though the show ran for twelve years, she left in 1997. She earned her first Tony Award nomination as Maureen.

Taye Digg’s who planed Benny in Rent ended up marrying her in 2003. They are now divorced, and Menzel is happily married to Aaron Lohr, who also appeared in Rent.

Following this role, Menzel was involved in several smaller performances, “including the Off-Broadway production of The Wild Party, the Encores! production of Hair, Aida, and The Vagina Monologues.” (Gale). But within a few years, Menzel landed her well-known role as Elphaba in Wicked. In 2003, she and Kristin Chenoweth, as Glinda, debuted the show. Elphaba has had a huge impact on girls all around the world for 15+ years, all starting with Menzel’s portrayal of the misunderstood Wicked Witch of the West. Menzel’s performance of “Defying Gravity” is still to this day admired and what has helped Menzel’s career soar. It is intentionally the most powerful song in the show, as she literally and figuratively defies gravity (and her “otherness”). This relatability is what has empowered anyone who feels like an outsider, including women, Jews, and African Americas.

In “I’m Not That Girl,” Elphaba realizes her love for Fiyero. “It is also the first time she openly acknowledges the limitations of her green skin, and the downcast melodic line reflects both her depression and the seeming impossibility of her situation.” (Boyd 110). This scene “humanizes” her and displays her vulnerability, making it particularly relatable, as we have all felt defeated at some point.

Once Menzel and Chenoweth were casted, the writers and lyricists essentially wrote the parts for the women, which is why they are still known for their roles as the original Elphaba and Glinda 15 years later. All the Elphaba’s and Glinda’s following Menzel and Chenoweth have been incredible, but their performances are incomparable. Menzel won a Tony in 2004 for her portrayal as Elphaba.

In what was supposed to be her second to last performance, Menzel fell through the trap door used when Elphaba “melts”. The next day, she came out for the last few lines of the show and in an Adidas red track-suit. “Menzel’s final performance ‘as’ Elphaba was actually herself…was at once wholly accidental and entirely appropriate to this musical, this role, this performer, and especially to her ardent fans” (Wolf 220). She came out on stage as herself, vulnerable and displayed her true relationships to the cast, giving an even more powerful performance. No one will ever forget it! She left the show in 2005 and “reprised her performance as Elphaba in the London production of Wicked from June to December of 2006.” (Gale)

In that same year, she also starred as Maureen in the film Rent. In the following years she landed various acting jobs in movies, such as Enchanted in 2007 and Private Practice in 2009. Additionally, she appeared in Glee in 2010 as Rachel Berry’s biological mother, Shelby Corcoran, in a few episodes. Throughout this time, Menzel released three solo albums. The first two were not too successful, however, as Menzel grew in popularity, the third, called I Stand, reached “number 58 on the Billboard 200 chart” (Rich 366).

In an interview from 2011, it is stated that while looking for a new original musical to do, she has turned down many Broadway shows. “There have been a bunch that didn’t feel like me. I worry because I’d like to get back there, and I don’t want people to forget about me.” (Heyman). This really speaks to Menzel’s character; she is not going to take just any role because it comes her way, but rather will take a role she know she can deeply convey and connect with.

In 2014, Menzel starred in Disney’s animated Frozen as Elsa, portraying another woman who feels as though she doesn’t belong. This role brought Menzel recognition to a whole new demographic of young children, who still cannot stop singing “Let It Go,” which spent six nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. This song is about self-expression and allowing yourself to let it go, as the title implies. Lyrics state, “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know. Well, now they know. Let it go, let it go. Can’t hold it back anymore.” as well as “And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.” Children and adults all over the world have related to this ballad and the song hit new levels of popularity. It is easy to feel alone and sometimes we all need to be reminded to be strong and, well, “let it go”! Menzel’s portrayal as Elsa is emotion and emphasizes staying close to those we love and not letting our differences keep us on the outside. Menzel won an Oscar in 2014 for “Let It Go”. There have been countless viral covers of the song, proving just how impactful the song, and Menzel, have been. In an interview with Fox, Menzel speaks about John Travolta’s introduction for her at the Oscars, in which she was to perform the ballad. He mistakenly called her “Adele Dazeem.” Already nervous for the performance, Menzel had a moment of frustration, but noted in the interview that she had to let her ego go (ha!) and prove she is a great singer, and she did just that.

She was always told that she would never have a pop hit as a Broadway singer, but she proves that a Broadway performer is not stuck in theater and can be successful on the radio as well. “Let It Go” “has made Menzel the first Tony-winning actor to have a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100” (Evans). Menzel also performed the hit song on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve Special. She missed a note or two and got major backlash from critics. But her response was perfect: “there are about 3 million notes in a two-and-a-half-hour musical; being a perfectionist, it took me a long time to realize that if I’m hitting 75 percent of them, I’m succeeding. Performing isn’t only about the acrobatics and the high notes: it’s staying in the moment, and connecting with audience in an authentic way, and making yourself real to them through the music” (Twitter). Two days later she performed the same song on The Tonight Show and noted, “In a week of very nerve-racking moments, that was a way to let loose, and it was also nice to reinforce that I’m really a live performer and I can sing that f-ing song. In a day and age where a lot of people have to be fixed with [Auto-Tune], it’s refreshing for people to know that some of us are not perfect all the time. But that’s the thing. It’s not about being perfect.” (Evans).

Menzel was on her “Barefoot at the Symphony” tour from 2010 to 2013. In this show and in concerts she did later on, Menzel would invite all the children up to the stage to sing songs, such as “Let It Go.” She has also done this at her shows. Not only is she portraying a strong woman in the several roles she has done, but she’s empowering young children to express themselves and be confident, and to never feel like an outsider; women empowerment both on and off stage.

In 2014, Menzel starred in If/Then, a show about a woman who is struggling with starting over in a new city. She does not know which decision is the right one as she starts her new life in New York, and the show follows her journey through these two paths. This show, essentially written for and tailored to Menzel’s needs, allowed her to deliver a powerful portrayal of a relatable women who is having trouble making choices in her life. Life doesn’t always end up how you plan but things work out; something we can all learn from and relate to. This role targets an older crowd than Frozen, landing her fame among all ages at this point in her career. Menzel received her third Tony nomination as Elizabeth in If/Then, where she performed “Always Starting Over,” an emotional ballad from the show.

Though now divorced, Menzel and Diggs founded A Broader Way, a camp “which is dedicated to providing arts programs for young girls from urban communities.” (Rich 367).  The organization is dedicated to offering girls from underserved communities an outlet for self-expression and creativity.” (idinamenzel.com). Menzel co-founded this philanthropy in order to empower women to express themselves, build self-esteem, develop leadership skills, and gain confidence. Pellegrini states, “the American Jewish female tradition of ‘charity work’ served as a critical foundation” (Pellegrini 253). This is evident in Menzel’s commitment to this foundation, whether intentional or just part of her character from growing up in a Jewish family.

Changed for Good argues that U.S. women’s history, women’s roles, and representations of women in other media have conversed and resonated with the Broadway musical in its form and content since the 1950s” (Wolf 12). This holds true in many of Menzel’s roles, which focus on inspiring individuals, especially women, who feel as though they do not fit in. It is not just anyone who can convey the emotion and character that Menzel puts into her roles. Her strong vocals and commitment to her character are incomparably impactful.

This past summer, Me starred in Joshua Harmon’s Off-Broadway show, Skintight, a playwright about a divorced women trying to find her way in life. “Skintight assays the nature of love, the power of attraction, and the ways in which a superficial culture persists in teaching its children that all that matters is what’s on the inside.” (Playbill) Menzel once again staring in a relatable show about empowerment. Currently Menzel is on her Idina Menzel: World Tour.

Menzel finds something in every character and role she has portrayed to relate to. In fact many of the shows she has been in have been tailored to suit her strengths both vocally and emotionally. She has had a flourishing career and still remains a huge name in the Broadway community.

“I’m not someone who stands on a soapbox, but having done Rent and Wicked and seeing how important those projects were to young minds, especially girls’, I do feel a responsibility. Kids still come and follow us around because Rent changed their lives how they viewed their sexuality or their race. Of course, at first you take the work you can get, but now I feel like if I have the choice, it shouldn’t be taken lightly I’m appreciating the responsibility I have in helping people honor their individuality and play the underdog, and I’d like my album to reflect that as well.” (Hayek).

Evidently Idina Menzel is committed to using her gift to empower others!

Works Cited

“About.” Idina Menzel, idinamenzel.com/about/.

Angeles, FOX 11 Los. “Idina Menzel Discusses Her Stage Role in ‘If Then’.” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Jan. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi8YB5xzExY.

BroadwayTVArchive. “If/Then’s Idina Menzel Profiled on CBS Sunday Morning (16-Apr-2014).” YouTube, YouTube, 19 July 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGf2-otSwV8.

EVANS, SUZY. “IDINA MENZEL, Unfrozen. (Cover Story).” Billboard, vol. 126, no. 11, Mar. 2014, pp. 28–33. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=95117427&site=ehost-live.

Gottschalk, Marla. “Frozen’s Idina Menzel Is Over Perfectionism. You Should Be Too.” Government Executive, 9 Feb. 2015, www.govexec.com/excellence/promising-practices/2015/02/frozens-idina-menzel-over-perfectionism-you-should-be-too/104418/.

Hayek, Salma. “THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD STORY – IDINA MENZEL – She’s Been a Wedding Singer, a Wicked Witch, and Has Fallen through a Trapdoor. Now She’s in on the Bet That Rent Will Make History on the Big Screen -.” Interview, 2006.

Heyman, Marshall. “Heard & Scene: Taking a Hike with Actress Idina Menzel.” Wall Street Journal, Jan 31, 2011. ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.lehigh.edu/docview/848288565?accountid=12043.

“Idina Menzel.” Gale Biography in Context, Gale, 2010. Biography In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1650007161/BIC?u=lehigh_main&sid=BIC&xid=9805ea25. Accessed 24 Nov. 2018.

MICHELLE BOYD. “Alto on a Broomstick: Voicing the Witch in the Musical Wicked.” American Music, vol. 28, no. 1, 2010, pp. 97–118. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/americanmusic.28.1.0097.

Pellegrini, Ann. “Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical (review).” American Jewish History, vol. 92 no. 2, 2004, pp. 253-255. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/ajh.2006.0012

Rich, Mari. “Idina Menzel.” Current Biography , vol. 76, no. 1, 2015.

“Skintight Off-Broadway @ Roundabout Theatre Company – Laura Pels Theatre – Tickets and Discounts.” Playbill, PLAYBILL INC., www.playbill.com/production/skintight-roundabout-theatre-company-laura-pels-theatre.

Wolf, Stacy Ellen. Changed for Good: a Feminist History of the Broadway Musical. Oxford University Press, 2011.

They’re Not Going to Get Sweaty, So I Don’t Even Know Why You’re Bringing It Up

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why. Because today all you have to do is be yourself. (Beat.) But also confident. That’s important. And interesting. Easy to talk to. Approachable. But mostly be yourself. That’s the big, that’s No. 1. . . . (Beat.) Also, though, don’t worry about whether your hands are going to get sweaty for no reason and you can’t make it stop no matter what you do, because they’re not going to get sweaty so I don’t even know why you’re bringing it up, because it’s not going to happen.

That was the opening scene of Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony-winning, must-see that finally made its Broadway debut in December 2016. Directed by Michael Greif, and whose music and lyrics are written by the duo Benj Pasek (Jewish), and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen’s success is even being compared to “The Hamilton of the Season”.

As an American-Jew close in age to the main characters of the show, facing, first-hand, the damage that the pressures of both school and social media can have on our generation, I have looked forward exploring how the role of stereotypes that often associate Jews with being anxious and neurotic is portrayed on Broadway. Specifically, through two leading characters in the hard-to-catch, Dear Evan Hansen.

Evan Hansen, a 17-year-old outsider battling a consuming social anxiety, played by Jewish ~Angelino~, Ben Platt gets tied up in a lie involving the death of a classmate, a romantic interest and his entire reputation. The musical incorporates a ground-breaking level of social media influences to symbolically confront the complexities of today’s younger audiences and to complement the plot in order to resonate with newer generations.

On the other hand, Jared Kleinman is Evan’s excessive, wise-ass family-friend, with a know-it-all attitude, who represents both a blunt, but “mockingly amused voice of reason”, as well as the deeply insecure camp kid that many Jewish-Americans have crossed paths with many a time. (Want an example of the punk-ish remarks he makes? Just check out the quotes on his Fandom page.) Evan, alone, desperate and inspired, ultimately enlists Jared to help partake in his elaborate letter-writing mission until things spiral out of control and they each threaten to expose one another. We can safely assume Jared is Jewish from his familiar camp references (likely inspired by Pasek’s own camp experiences, if not adjusted when Camp Ramah alum Ben was casted), including his sexual awakenings with Israeli soldiers and from his allusions to his parents’ liquor that hasn’t been touched since Rosh HaShana.

Throughout the first act, we aren’t told what happened to Evan’s father, what is up with his distressed mother, Heidi, nor why he fell out of the tree (which we later subtly learn was a cry for help). We figure out most of the story ourselves through the characters behaviors and seeing how they are affected.

Social Anxiety and Dear Evan Hansen

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.” Anxiety and Depression, however, affect nearly 44 million adults in the US. It also states that the average onset for SAD sets in during the teenage years, typically beginning around the age of 13. Individuals who face SAD may worry about the way they come off to others, fearing an impression of stupidity, awkwardness, or even being boring. These traits are often correlated with physical fumbling, such as sweating and stumbling over one’s words.

Platt does an outstanding job at painting Evan as a neurotic misfit, suffering from shyness and insecurity that mark his days and interactions. While there is no evidence that Evan is Jewish, his conceiver, Ben Platt, was, and many actors’ personal lives often influence the cultivation of their characters. Evan depicts many socially anxious tendencies, which Ben Platt absolutely nails. Platt does a surreal job at characterizing Evan, introducing an unfamiliar, refreshing, undeniably real performance. Everything about his portrayal of Evan is mysteriously, emotionally raw. He sings through mucus and tears. He picks at his nails, twitches, fidgets, plays with his clothing and lacks impulse control. It seems so natural. He credits this to his Jewish values and upbringing in a tight community, which translate into his ability to perform. He shared in an e-mail interview last year, “As a theater artist in particular, Judaism has cultivated a unique sense of empathy in me for which I am very grateful. Judaism encourages us to see beyond the surface to try to understand those who are different from us. This has afforded me the opportunity to better comprehend the character of Evan and the characters around him.”

Jared, originally played by Will Roland, strongly executes “ironic, self-deprecatory ethnic pride” that appears with Jews in media over and over again. He is deeply insecure and alludes to a potential homosexuality through his histrionic homophobia. His frequent use of sarcasm and desperate attempts to seem “chill” do a lousy job at hiding his own discomfort and raging loneliness. He often says things to make himself feel liked, accepted or wanted. There is a serious shock value to a plethora of his quotes, such as:

“Ooh, Kinky”

Or my favorite, “School-shooter chic.”

Humor is his mask, and he ceaselessly shoots Evan down, reminding him that his parents essentially pay him through car insurance to be his friend, or when he crossed the line during their fight with by declaring that Connor’s death was the best thing that ever happened to Evan. Ouch. He eagerly involves himself with The Connor Project, he to feel involved with something, or feel important to achieving something through his involvement.

The team behind Dear Evan Hansen sharing their insights on Evan’s troubles:

The Neurotic, Anxious, Histrionic, Nervous Jew

The Stereotype. You get the point.

The concept of Jews being endlessly associated with and portrayed by the entertainment media as histrionic, neurotic, anxious and nervous is nothing new. This concept is so widely accepted that people don’t think twice about it. Americans already view Jews as the poster child that you’d find next to these adjectives in the dictionary.

Interestingly enough, there is hardly any empirical data that Jews suffered from anxiety at any higher rates than anyone else. It is wildly repeated, glamorized and well-known, yet there is no scientific data to support any higher-levels of mental illness among Jews. Many argue that the image produced by this stereotype is self-perpetuated and encouraged society to view us as neurotic and anxious. My family’s photographer saw me pick up a piece of paper with my foot the Thursday (you know, the Thursday that every Jewish family Bar/Bat Mitzvah portraits take place,) before I became a Bat Mitzvah. He excitedly pointed out that “That’s how you know you’re a member of the Tribe. All Jews pick things up with their toes! You’re a natural.” Of course, that is an extremely silly thing to believe, but it has always stuck with me. Rabbis from multiple movements have acknowledged the stereotype. For some unknown reason, writers relish in the creation, and it’s the comedians and actors who have been able to sell it to the world. New York Times Opinionator writer and author of Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, Daniel Smith, dives into the “We Are the Champions” theory that Jews in Hollywood have propagated this inferior Neurotic Jew image that closely-enough breaks many striking similarities to the historical “troubling anti-Semitic imagination.”

However, this is certainly a positive light to shine on this: Think from the perspective that just maybe there are more Jews out there with psychological differences and personality traits. There is no research to back that up, but Jews’ heavy usage of self-deprecation in the entertainment industry (such as Jared’s) promotes laughter rather than a derogatory ‘laughing at’. It is typically making light of anxiety. Neurotic and anxious behaviors, often portrayed by Jewish actors and characters alike, make people laugh and accept these sides of themselves, and the portrayals remind people to be comfortable with something because it is not a very “different” trait to be dealing with, people do understand you and most importantly, you are not alone.

Pasek and Paul were comfortable putting a still-not-yet-widely spoken about topic on stage. In fact, the social anxieties that come with being an outsider is another way that Jews can exhibit pride! Somehow, there is a fresh, unrequited comfort or familiarity that comes with the idea of the Jewish anxiety stereotype. It is so widely viewed as an affliction, but Jews are also coming together to be somewhat cheerful to whatever degree about our common past of having suffered for thousands of years. In Dear Evan Hansen, Evan is being tortured by rejection and loneliness. Ben Platt shared that he succeeded in relating so deeply with Evan as he mentioned, “I come from a big Jewish family and we all have our neuroses and our anxieties. And I’ve definitely had experiences in the past having to deal with that in terms of therapy and that sort of thing.” He starts by basing his social awkwardness mostly on people he has encountered in life, and by trying to understand the way he may be taken over by his anxiety if he were ever in specific situations and unable to bring himself together – open about having dealt with his own anxiety.

Lastly, Smith (who shares that his non-Jewish last name was changed upon arriving at Ellis Island) rebuts the faults of the “Neurotic Jew” image by bringing up the correlation between anxiety and excessive intellectual activity…or just excessive intelligence. “Because if anxiety is rooted in excessive intellectual activity, then it is also rooted, by association, in excessive intelligence.” He points out that Jews identify with a tribe that is known to be one of the most neurotic peoplehoods in existence, and calls out famous Jewish intellectuals, grouping “Spinoza and Marx and Freud and Einstein — and Roth and Allen,” all into our same tribe. This link between anxiety and intelligence is in fact credible, according to a study from 2012 by institutions including Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Penn State University and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The transitive property may not necessarily be able to be applied to every single anxious Jew out there, but as a Jew, I’ll take it.

Despite the lack of evidence behind Jews leading the numbers of anxiety diagnoses, Jews are instrumental in the advances of psychology and psychiatry. Sigmund Frued considered the most famous psychologist in history is Jewish. In 2007, a study conducted among psychiatry and religion found that of those who identify with a religion, “more than twice as many are Jewish.” On top of that, 29% of psychiatrists are Jewish, with a remaining large percentage of physicians being Jewish as well. Moreover, compared to the Jewish physicians who were more likely to send patients to a psychiatrist, only half as many protestant physicians reported being likely to do so.

While there is no evidence that Jews face more mental illness, I think Jews would be me more tolerant towards a trait places them against adversity due to the way in which their peoplehood have always been fabricated. This shone through the primarily-Jewish writing team’s work. Jews are very familiar with having a hardship against them, something that makes them a minority, and prevailing through it to live a normal life, accepting themselves for who they are because they aren’t going to be able to change. “…Jews have a lengthy history of persecution and even planned eliminations (pogroms) by people in countries…Jews have long been “the other,” (Kamalipour 101). Jews would be most understandably able to empathetically see past these stigmas. Just like their Jewish identity is something that Jews must learn to live with and accept, so is the social anxiety that Evan suffers from every moment.

Online Sources

Peer Reviewed Sources

Kamalipour, Yahya R., et al. Cultural Diversity and the U.S. Media. State University of New York Press, 1998.

The Relationship Between Psychiatry and Religion Among U.S. Physicians

Farr A. Curlin, M.D., Shaun V. Odell, B.A., Ryan E. Lawrence, M.Div., Marshall H. Chin, M.D., M.P.H., John D. Lantos, M.D., Keith G. Meador, M.D., and Harold G. Koenig, M.D. Psychiatric Services 2007 58:9, 1193-1198

Coplan, Jeremy D et al. “The Relationship between Intelligence and Anxiety: An Association with Subcortical White Matter Metabolism” Frontiers in evolutionary neuroscience vol. 3 8. 1 Feb. 2012, doi:10.3389/fnevo.2011.00008 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3269637/




Judas: The Voice of Reason

Judas, Jesus, and Mary Magdalene in the 1973 film

The musical Jesus Christ Superstar offers a retelling of well known biblical story of Jesus’ last few days in Jerusalem. At the time of the original films release in 1973, Jesus Christ Superstar gave audiences of the time context for the ancient story. The biblical characters sport typical clothing and hairstyles worn in the 1970s and traditional gospel music is replaced with popular musical styles of the time. Not only does the physical appearance and sound of the show increased the ability of viewers to relate to the distant story, some characters, such as Mary Magdalene and Judas, are more developed than in the original telling and give the audience someone to connect with. The bible does not spend much time writing about Judas as an individual, mostly focusing on his role in the betrayal of Jesus that led to his execution. Judas is humanized in Jesus Christ Superstar by revealing his motives and emotions leading up to the death of Jesus. Judas explains the greater historical context surrounding the story of Jesus and exemplifies the emotions most likely felt by the average Jew at the time, allowing the audience to put themselves in the mindset of a first century Jew living in Roman occupied Israel.

Jesus talking to his followers in front of Roman guards


Although the majority of what is known today about the life of Jesus comes from the stories relayed by his apostles, his disciples fade more into the background in Jesus Christ Superstar, bringing Judas to the foreground as the voice of earthly reason. With the exception of Mary Magdalene, not much of a distinction is made between Jesus’ different disciples. They are never shown alone and mostly sing in unison, never challenging the direction Jesus is leading. They seem to be caught up in the teachings of Jesus, losing sight of their surroundings and focusing on the heavenly future Jesus has been promising. In the aptly named “Heaven on Their Minds”, Judas refers to the followers as blind and explains “I am frightened by the crowd./ For we are getting much too loud./ And they’ll crush us if we go too far”. In the eyes of Judas, the disciplines are mindlessly following Jesus without acknowledging that the more their movement progresses and grows, the more dangerous it is becoming.

Judas offers a more grounded view of Jesus’s actions, putting them into perspective of their social and political standing. From the very beginning of the play, Judas expresses concern over the repercussions that could face Jesus and his followers if they draw too much attention from the ruling powers. He sings in the opening number, “Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?/ … / We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?” in an effort to make Jesus realize the potential danger he is leading his people into (“Heaven on Their Minds”). When Judas asks Jesus if he cares for his “race”, he is referring to the Jewish race which they both belong and was under Roman rule at the time. By the time of Jesus’ arrival, the Jewish people had already faced a long history of oppression and suffering, including being kicked out of their own promised land and 

forced into slavery.The Roman Empire was generally tolerant of the different cultures of those living under their control. As long as they recognized the power of Rome and acknowledged the Roman emperor as a god, occupied peoples were permitted to continue practicing their own religious traditions. Although the people of Judea were able to practice Judaism, there was still a limit to the tolerance exhibited by the Romans. They were not hesitant to take action against movements that could be viewed as a threat to their authority. The Romans had plenty of resources to suppress any perceived threats, a fact that would have been well known by all who live within the empire, including Judas, who reminds Jesus and his followers of this throughout the play.

Judas continually expresses and is motivated by the idea that the attention Jesus is getting will negatively affect the greater Jewish community. Compared to the lives of their ancestors who had been exiled and enslaved, the Jewish people had a relatively good life under the Roman Empire. They had been free to practice their religion while living in their promised land, two important aspects of life for the Jews that Judas did not want to see stripped away. Only a couple of decades earlier in 4 BCE, the Roman government had burned the outer part of the temple, which would have been a known event by Jews at the time of Jesus (Bond 65). The Second Temple of Jerusalem was considered an extremely holy place with only the high priests capable of entering center parts of the temple. The Temple was the main pillar for the Jewish community and it would have been a common sentiment amongst the people to possess the desire to protect it at all costs. It is the threat of destroying their holy Temple and an end to their ability to practice Judaism in their everyday lives that motivated Judas to betray his friend, a threat that he was right to worry about. Only forty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in response to a Jewish uprising, demonstrating that Judas was not just paranoid and his warnings could have easily come true. Knowing the very real reality that his race was at risk is what drove Judas to assist in the arrest of Jesus, despite his own admiration and love for him.

When reading the biblical text, Judas is painted as a villain with no attempt to explain why he would betray Jesus. By finally giving him a voice, Judas is brought to life in Jesus Christ Superstar. The audience is able to form a connection to Judas by telling his perspective, especially through singing which is more emotionally charged. From the very first number, the viewer always knows how Judas is feeling, even when he is confused himself like in the song “Judas’ Death”.

Sung after Jesus has been arrested and whipped, the song changes tone multiple times to reflect the inner struggle of Judas trying to reconcile his love for Jesus and his own actions against him. It is natural for any listener to sympathize with Judas when hearing him express the raw emotions that drove him to take his own life. Feeling connected to one of the most famous antagonists in history forces the viewer to rethink the story of Jesus they thought they knew and reconsider how they would behave if put into the shoes of a first century Jew in Israel.


Work Cited

Bond, Helen K. “Caiaphas and Jesus.” Caiaphas Friend of Rome and Judge of Jesus?,

Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Goodacre, Mark (2016) “Do You Think You’re What They Say You Are? Reflections on Jesus

Christ Superstar,” Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 3 : Iss. 2 , Article 2.


Paffenroth, Kim (2016) “Film Depictions of Judas,” Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 5 : Iss. 2 ,

Article 5. Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol5/iss2/5


The Irony of Fanny Brice’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” by Claudia Hanover

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” is the most famous number from the 1964 musical, and 1968 film, Funny Girl, and arguably Barbra Streisand’s entire career as well. In the context of the play, the lead character Fanny Brice has suddenly decided to quit her tour with the Follies to follow her love interest Nick Arnstein to New York. This is Fanny’s turning point where her dream changes from becoming a star in show business to starting a life with her soon-to-be husband. The song has become a cultural phenomenon, from appearing in episodes of Family Guy and The Simpsonsto being the central song for the main character of Glee.While at first the song seems like Fanny’s liberation, upon careful analysis of the lyrics and context of the show, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” gives contradicting messages of female empowerment.

Image result for fanny brice don't rain on my paradeIn order to fully grasp the meaning of the number, it’s important to evaluate Fanny’s journey to the point of her decision to go to New York. In the beginning of the show, it’s obvious that the main character is captivated by the theater. Fanny, after a long, comical struggle, gets a job in vaudeville. She wins over her audiences with both unintentional and intentional humor, and it seems like she is a budding star. When we see Fanny’s home life though, there is much less support than one would imagine. In the song “If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”, we watch Fanny’s family friends poke fun at her looks, explaining why she could never be successful in show business.

On the outside, this scene may seem like nothing more than some humor and motivation for Fanny. However, when looking at it through the lens of Jewish stereotypes it begins to carry more meaning. “Looking Jewish: Visual Culture and Modern Diaspora” by Carol Zemel, dissects the characterization of older Jewish women in popular culture around the sixties. In works that came out in the same decade as Funny Girl, such as Phillip Roy’s Portnoy’s Complaint(1969) and Dan Greenburg’s How to be a Jewish Mother(1964), “Jewish writers inverted the saintly character of the Jewish mother, and characterized her as vulgar and overbearing,” Zemel writes. Mrs. Brice epitomizes this overbearingness when she defends Fanny, still managing to make disparaging comments about her daughter’s nose in a room full of people. Clearly this would be a move that would embarrass any child, and yet Fanny seems used to it. Not to mention, Jewish noses being large and/or hooked is a known stereotype as well.

This scene feels so truthful and honest, not just because the characters of the Jewish women are written well, but because of Streisand’s connection to this aspect of Fanny. In “Stars”, Gary Carey writes about how Streisand’s unconventional beauty allows her to become one with her role. “Miss Streisand, just like Fanny Brice in her time, has had much play with her ugly duckling image,” Carey wrote. “Streisand, however- and this was also true of Miss Brice- may be basically sort of ugly, but she is endowed with innate elegance and has acquired an imposing chic that has made her, if not beautiful, a handsome woman.” The power behind a woman who isn’t perceived as pretty, and uses that to her advantage, can be remarkable. Streisand is able to perform as Fanny because she knows what it’s like to be Fanny, in a metaphorical sense. The strength is not only palpable in that living room scene, but is believable as well.

The story continues though, and Fanny begins to change as she falls in love with the suave Nick Arnstein. After her risky, yet successful, decision to appear on stage as a pregnant bride, her stardom begins, and immediately declines she meets Nick. This is the critical juncture at which the audience sees Fanny’s determination to be a star slowly wither away. This context is key in examining Fanny’s decision to follow Nick, and thus, the meaning and irony behind the number “Don’t Rain on My Parade”.

Image result for nick arnstein omar sharif


Image result for fanny brice barbra streisand follies





As the Follies learn of Fanny’s decision to abandon the tour and go to New York, they are frantically trying to save their group from losing its star. They beg Georgia James to convince Fanny to stay, to which Georgia, “It’s impossible. You can’t talk to Fanny about anything. Once she makes up her mind, she makes up her mind.” We then see Fanny on the phone with Ziegfeld, her boss, refusing to allow him to make her stay. This is where the true irony begins. At face value, a woman standing up to her team and her boss for something she wants is the embodiment of strength and empowerment. It is the thing that she wants which makes her strength ironic. While arguing with Ziegfeld, Fanny says, “I love the theater. I love to hear an audience applaud, but you can’t take an audience home with you. I want a personal life too, and I’m gonna have it.” This is the first time Fanny clearly vocalizes her abandonment of the love for the stage and the goal of becoming a star in order to be a wife.

The song then begins, the first line sung in response to the Follies all desperately trying to get Fanny to go to Chicago. Fanny sings:

“Don’t tell me not to live

Just sit and putter

Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter

Don’t bring around a cloud to rain on my parade”

Generally, a woman lashing out against being told “not to live” or to “just sit and putter” would connote her displeasure with staying at home as a housewife. Without context, the first four lines of the song seem as if they are written from the perspective of a woman leaving her duties at home behind to chase her dreams. The clear irony in the “Don’t Rain on My Parade” lies in the context, because in this case, it is the exact opposite as Fanny is attempting to leave her dreams behind to become a man’s wife. Fanny uses the words sitting and puttering to describe her tour with the Follies; something she once only dreamed of doing. Now, Fanny’s “parade” is being able to chase after Nick with the hopes that he will accept her.

In Stephen Farber’s “The Hausfrau, the Ugly Duckling, and the Funny Lady” he writes, “Unfortunately, the movie itself, focusing on Fanny’s doomed love for shady gambler Nicky Arnstein, ended by enshrining the romantic clichés that Streisand intuitively mocked.” In the beginning of the show, exemplified in how determined Fanny was to get a role in vaudeville and how she brushed off comments about her looks, we saw the main character as a woman who doesn’t fall into the stereotype of a quiet and graceful lady. But as Farber points out, this eventually fades away and Fanny falls into the cliché of which she was once the opposite.

Fanny continues her number as she is in the midst of traveling to New York. She sings:

“I’m gonna live and live now

Get what I want, I know how”

These two lines essentially sum up Fanny’s determination. She once wanted to be in Image result for fanny brice don't rain on my paradetheater, and she did everything in her power to assure it would happen. Then, she wanted to be Nick’s wife. Whether or not all of her actions truly depicted strong womanhood, there is no doubt Fanny knew what she wanted in life, and took the measures to make sure they were obtained.

There is power in choice, something Fanny had from beginning to end. In this story, she had the means to become a true Jewish, feminist icon, though, and turn down a man to continue following her dreams. Instead she chose to chase Nick, and thus the innate irony in “Don’t Rain on My Parade”. Fanny made sure she got what she wanted, but perhaps sitting and puttering on stage with the Follies would have been better than starting a family with the criminal Nick Arnstein.


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“It’s Not Just for Gays (And Jews) Anymore”

If anyone remembers one thing from the 65th 2011 Tony awards show (besides The Book of Mormon drenching the floor with the tears of the fans of Sister Act and Catch Me If You Can as they repeatedly won awards), it was Neil Patrick Harris’s jaw-dropping opening number “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore.”

(Click to see some spectacular dance moves)

Written by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, the song incorporated tips of the hat to many of the nominated shows including, Sister Act, The Book of Mormon, Anything Goes and more. But beyond the typical Tony opener homages (and the spectacular performance from everyone’s favorite openly gay “teen heartthrob,” Neil Patrick Harris), the number cleverly played on several theater lover, Jewish, and gay stereotypes claiming that “Broadway has never been broader… It’s not just for gays, the gays and the Jews” anymore. As actor and comedian, Eric Idle explains about Broadway stereotypes regarding Jewish involvement for an interview included in the documentary Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy.  “It’s not funny unless it’s true, and people only laugh because it is true.” Harris’ lines may be comical, but where do these stereotypes come from and is there truth in the claim that the composition of Broadway casts and audiences are changing?

After taking a moment to watch the video below and bask in the glory of everything that is the incredible Neil Patrick Harris, watch the video again and pay close attention to the stereotypes which Javerbaum and Schlesinger incorporated.

Beyond the kick lines, costume changes and audience participation, the song is meant to play on two of Broadway’s most prominent stereotypes, that Broadway is primarily comprised of gays and Jews. These stereotypes are not unfounded, and as David Halperin writes in his book How to Be Gay, “a stereotype doesn’t have to be generally valid in order to contain some truth”(Halperin). Both the Gay and Jewish communities have had a long history of involvement on Broadway. As explained in PBS’s documentary, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, long “before Broadway set up home near Times Square in the early 20th century it was a lively theater that thrived downtown on the lower east side, where ‘Yiddishkeit’ meaning all things Jewish took center stage.” It was here where Jewish immigrants first began to make their mark on the history of Broadway as a method of assimilation. As Warren Hoffman suggested during his on-campus lecture “Jews, Whiteness and the Broadway musical,” Broadway has long been a place for minorities, (especially white minorities) to take on new roles and find an inclusive community. Although Hoffman was explicitly focusing on Jews while making this argument, the same logic can be extended to include diversity in sexual orientation to some extent as well. Among the many reasons to be drawn to musical theater, it can be argued that a significant original reason which attracted white minorities was the acceptance provided by the theater. Unlike minorities of color, Ashkenazi Jews and white members of the LGBTQ community were able to blend in on stage. This ability freed them from the great limitations race often played and continues to play in casting. Free of the limiting factors of race, yet still not fully accepted by much of society, Jewish, and later LGBTQ, Americans were drawn to the theater, which offered a chance to make it in America and design a community who would accept them.

While the main focal point of the song is distinctly Jewish and Gay stereotypes, the characterization of Broadway audiences should not go unmentioned. Like any good joke, the trope of Broadway audiences as tourists, professional theater critics, geeky senior citizens, and suburbanites, is primarily grounded in truth. According to The Broadway League, who has collected years of demographic data of Broadways 13.3 million audience members in 2016-2017,  “the New York City audience accounted for only 22% of theatergoers,” and “another 18% came from surrounding suburbs. Further, as the song alluded to, tourists purchased approximately 61% of all Broadway tickets” (The Broadway League). Despite these numbers, as Harris suggested back in 2011, the composition of Broadway audiences is widening. In 2016-2017, “Twenty-five percent of respondents were under 25 years old,” and the percentage of New York residents seeing shows was the highest it’s been in the past fifteen years. This statistic, however, is somewhat curious. In the age of instant video streaming, why would the demographics of theatergoers be expanding? Both research conducted by The Broadway League (TBL) as well as the results found by Jeffrey S. Simonoff and Lan Ma in their paper “An Empirical Study of Factors Relating to the Success of Broadway Shows” had an indirect, although interesting, answer to this question. Simonoff and Lan Ma assessed that award nominations and reviews are not as critical as one might think in a show’s success. Contrary to popular belief they stated that “Critic reviews in the daily news are related to longevity as would be expected, but, in contrast to earlier investigations, reviews in the New York Times are unrelated to the success of a show” (Simonoff and Lan Ma). Instead, as corroborated by TBL, what is more important is the general public attitude toward the show. Research collected by TBL found that “theatergoers reported a personal recommendation as the most influential factor when it came to selecting a show to see” (TBL). This fact may partially explain the changing demographics of Broadway audiences, as well as the over all expansion. Much like Broadway’s beginnings which had an overwhelming minority presence of Jewish actors and influences, we once again see the stage becoming a sort of assimilation platform for minority actors. According to a study by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition, Broadway casts are the most diverse they have ever been “with 35 percent of all roles going to minority actors, up from 30 percent the previous season and 24 percent the year before that” (New York Times). With this new diversity, it is not surprising that more diverse casts would appeal to a wider crowd and most importantly, create more favorable personal recommendations from a broader set of audience members and critics.

Although the lyrics make the most overt statements in the song, there is also a significant point to be seen in the choreography, without focusing on the words at all.  In his Doctoral Thesis for the University of Birmingham, James Michael Lovelock points out that among the many homages nested within the performance, “the vintage choreography [also] paid homage to Busby Berkeley with its use of box steps, kick lines and canon” (Lovelock). As a Tony award opener this golden age style seems fitting, but the over the top celebratory nature of the Tony awards is not the only reason to choose such a dated style. Despite the song’s lyrics, its proclamation of inclusivity (for heterosexual males) was delivered by a gay actor in a sparkling purple tuxedo and promoted anything but heteronormativity. Lovelock writes that “It is difficult to imagine a similar number being written in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Maury Yeston or Lin-Manuel Miranda, or any other musical theatre composer since Jerry Herman ”(Lovelock), suggesting that these modern styles, while to some extent more inclusive, also have taken large steps to recover the heteronormativity of Rodgers and Hammerstein. By playing on this difference between old Broadway and today’s modern style, Javerbaum and Schlesinger brilliantly create a contrast between the old Broadway and the “new” more inclusive Broadway which Harris is alluding to.

Despite recent changes in the composition of Broadway, one thing is certain. The incredibly rich history and powerful contributions both the Gay and Jewish communities have given to Broadway will never go away, never be forgotten, and no matter how much change occurs, will continue to grow.

If you loved his first Tony Award show opener I highly suggest watching his 2012 and 2013 ones as well!

By Katie Taylor


Falsettos and its Impact on Society

By Tyler Blitz

The musical Falsettos was written and composed by William Finn and James Lapine. William Finn was born and raised in Natick, Massachusetts, and received his education at Williams College. He was openly gay, and survived major brain surgery in 1992, which is the year the play first appeared on broadway. The broadway musical was later nominated for seven Tony Awards, where it won Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. The play gained a lot of attention for its depiction of gay relationships and unconventional families amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 1981 when March of the Falsettos was first performed, the disease now known as AIDS was still unnamed. When Falsettos, which was a combination of Act I and Act II, came out in 1992, perceptions of gay identity and of AIDS had progressed even further, for there were slight increases in medical advancements and more people living with HIV, however still much uncertainty.

Mainstream media suggested to the public that the AIDS disease is more than likely to spread from marginalized populations of gay men to the general heterosexual population. This information struck havoc among the general population and other media sources. For example, in 1985, amid the height of the scare, the cover of LIFE magazine, one that is very prevalent and popular to the population, made its title “Now No One Is Safe from AIDS”. People around the country began to fear the spread of AIDS, and started to blame gay men for this crisis, resulting in a significant increase of homophobia during this time period. The Human Rights Commission report cited “individuals going so far as to state that they see this disease as a punishment for the gay population” (Petro 24). This account proves the feeling of homophobia was rising among the general population due to this epidemic. Falsettos, which debuted only half a decade later, served as another form of media during this crisis. However, unlike the other forms, they tried to bring attention to the other side of the spectrum to show how tough it was for gay men to deal with it. At this point, gay representation was slowly becoming more prevalent in TV and film.

Amidst this time of minimal acceptance or care in regards the homosexual community, a cure to AIDS was not a priority, being that it impacted primarily the gay population. The prevalence of AIDS quickly began to skyrocket around this time, and it was becoming a huge problem in society, one that required at least some political support. However, the federal government, led by President Ronald Reagan at this time in the 1990s was markedly silent on the issue. No new federal programs designed to look further and research this new disease were launched. As the new diseases AIDS killed dozens, the federal government failed to react (Fetner 52). “The gay community’s challenge to attain the same standards of medical treatment, data collection, and research for AIDS patients as for people affiliated with other types of illnesses is connected to the activist, cultural, and community-building processes of gay men and lesbian throughout the decade” (Fetner 51). William Finn attempts to portray how AIDS impacted the gay community, in order to bring further recognition to this topic.

The following are accounts of cast members, and reasons why they chose to act in Falsettos and how much of an impact they believe it had on the LGBTQ society.

According to Chip Zien, who played Mendel in Falsettos, “We are doing this show but it’s really important and we feel we’re the first people to really, really deal with it.”
According to Spencer Liff, the choreographer of the play who is an openly gay, felt that it was his responsibility to “present the show in a way that would make people stop and think about their actions, and have more respect for the battle” toward equality that LGBTQ people have had to fight across generations (Wong).
In addition, Andrew Rannells, who played Whizzer in the revival of Falsettos in 2016, said he is “happy that some young people will see the show and maybe learn a little bit about what that time was, because it was very scary” (Isherwood).

In Falsettos, William Finn tried normalizing this situation by portraying what life was like for those types of families, and differentiated what life was like for them in comparison to the “traditional” Jewish family. While growing up in same sex marriage households was not generally accepted at the time, it has surely improved since then. According to American Religions and the Family, the beliefs have shifted dramatically since the opening of this play. Browning said, “While procreation and family are especially important as guarantors of the survival of the Jewish people, all Jews have a responsibility to raise and future the next generation of our people. The important of family, whether biologically or relationally based, remains the foundation of meaningful human existence” (Browning 160). This statement definitely elaborates upon the definition of a Jewish family to encompass all kinds of relationships, which is something that certainly has shifted since the 1990s, as well as the production of the musical.

One example of how William Finn attempted to portray the struggle of unconventional families in the gay community comes from the song My Father’s a Homo in Act I. In this scene, Jason says, “What about chromosomes? Do they carry? Will they carry?” It is clear that Jason is finding it difficult to fully understand his father’s homosexuality (Falsettos Act I). Jason is not aware at this point that homosexuality is not something that is entirely genetic. It is obvious that Jason is scared to end up like his father, based on his repetition of the word “carry” in the lyrics.

Additionally, in the song “Breaking Down”, Trina shows how her non-traditional family is collapsing and totally breaking down. She says, “The only thing that’s breaking up is my family”. This line shows the struggle that Trina is dealing with, and how having this difference in the household has impacted many families at the time.

Overall, Falsettos opened a door and brought light to the horrific AIDS epidemic taking place in the world, and contradicted the general traditional family composition. Today, the show is still important as hate and homophobia are more than prevalent in our society.

Works Cited

Fetner, Tina. How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism. NED – New edition ed., vol. 31, University of Minnesota Press, 2008. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttvb8d.

Wong, C. M. (2016, December 29). Why Broadway’s ‘Falsettos’ Is A ‘Reality Check’ For LGBTQ Audiences. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/broadway-falsettos-lgbtq_us_585bfb72e4b0d9a59457533b

Petro, A. M. (2015). After the wrath of God: AIDS, sexuality, and American religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peitzman, L. (2016, October 27). There’s Never Been A Better Time For “Falsettos”. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/falsettos-revival-is-the-timeliest-show-on-broadway

Browning, D., & Clairmont, D. (Eds.). (2007). American Religions and the Family: How Faith Traditions Cope with Modernization and Democracy. NEW YORK: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/brow13800

Isherwood, C. (2016, December 28). In ‘Falsettos,’ an Affecting Echo of AIDS Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/28/theater/falsettos-memory.html


Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen:

This year will be a good year. You will learn to love yourself for who you are, and soon enough, those around you will love you too.

After taking the time to reflect on these past few years and where my life has taken me, I have learned to appreciate my mother’s weird love for that horoscope stuff and “inspirational quotes”. Once a week, on Monday mornings, I try to find a quote to get me through the week and to motivate me through every day, whether it be a good or a bad one. Today, I found one that stood out to me, and reminded me of my feelings throughout my life that still linger with me from day to day:

 “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority” – Ralph W. Sockman.

I find that I identify with several parts of this quote. Through my struggles of loneliness and anxiety, I was in a dark place that I never thought I could possibly get out of. I felt like an outsider, like a minority. I just didn’t fit in with the others, in a way that was out of my control. People often take anxiety lightly. Some people will ask me “Why do you always walk with your head down? Isn’t that kind of weird?”. Maybe they’re right… I just can’t help it sometimes. You should probably work on making eye contact with people a little more.


I like to think that your anxiety is the reason why you struggle to make friends. Not because you’re weird or sometimes make bad jokes, but because a large part of your identity involves a quality that many people don’t have. I actually talked to a friend …uh no… I mean…. “family friend” the other day about this. His name is Jared. He’s kind of an asshole, and I don’t really know why I’m friends with him, but I guess I’ll take what I can get. Anyways, he’s Jewish and is always making jokes about the fact that he’s Jewish. I read online somewhere, actually, that “self-deprecation (is) central to Diaspora humor” (Whitfield 245). I think most of it comes from the fact that he is part of a minority too, and his jokes are his way of coping with the fact that he, too, feels like an outsider. He may not realize it, but I think Jared actually likes hanging out with you. You’re both part of different minorities and are able to share that connection over the fact that you don’t exactly fit in with the crowd. I never thought that Jared was insecure until he started making jokes about his religion in the same way that I make jokes about how nobody really cares about me. I always used to like to use humor as a coping mechanism, and it made me wonder if that’s what Jared does too.

Jared’s parents told me a little bit about discrimination when I used to hang around his house because my mom was busy at work. His mom told me that sometimes she felt like she was an outsider and was sometimes even discriminated against because she was Jewish. She said that people would often make comments about her religion without even realizing what they were saying was anti-Semitic. I found myself connecting with Jared’s mom when she opened up to me this one night in a way I never thought I would. Hearing her talk about how she has experienced anti-Semitism made me realize that my whole life, I’ve been looked down upon because of my anxiety. Jared’s mom taught me about a term “everyday racism”, “a form of racism distinctively structured in “practices that infiltrate everyday life and become part of what is seen as “normal” by the dominant group” (Beagan 590). I never really thought about it, but I think that I can relate to this term a bit. I know that your anxiety isn’t a race or a religion, but it does have more similarities than many would think. Your anxiety is part of who you are and you can’t easily change it. Yes, you can take your medicine to try to get rid of it, similarly to how a Jew can convert to another religion, but it’s always going to be in your blood. Like Judaism, because your anxiety isn’t something that is “obvious” or physically apparent, it makes this “everyday racism” a lot easier to occur. People don’t think they’re being discriminatory towards you, because they are ignorant to the fact that you are different from the rest of them. They feel less guilt because it isn’t obvious that they are making you feel like an outsider because of your differences.

Although both Jews and people with anxiety don’t outwardly have their identities written across their foreheads, they do often have their quirks or stereotypes that are identifiable. “The importance of a “Jewish nose” is that it is perceived as one of the most obvious defining features of Jews” (Schrank 18). Jared’s mom told me that she thinks she falls under some “Jewish stereotypes”, her nose being one of them. I never thought it was obvious that you had anxiety from an outsider’s perspective, but come to think it, you’re a walking stereotype of an anxious high schooler. The way you stutter correcting your teachers to call you Evan, your slight twitch… and don’t even get me STARTED on those sweaty hands of yours. But, Evan, you just have to embrace it and people will like you for you.

It’s okay for you to admit that you feel like an outsider. Admitting that you might be different from others is the key to accepting this fact. Your anxiety is part of you, and you need to embrace this in order to truly be yourself and put yourself out there. Remember what you always say- be yourself. Be true to yourself. When you’re feeling down, think back to the quote from this week- the test of courage comes from when you are in the minority. You have this courage inside of you, Evan and you’ve showed it to the world. Continue to be yourself, and take on every obstacle with your head held high.





Whitfield, Stephen J. “The Distinctiveness of American Jewish Humor.” Modern Judaism, vol. 6, no. 3, 1986, pp. 245–260. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1396216.

Schrank, Berince. Cutting off Your Nose To Spite Your Race: Jewish Stereotypes, Images, Cultural Hybridity. Purdue University Press, 2007.