“Lipa On Broadway,” a one-performance musical starring Lipa Schmeltzer, was awesome.
It had all the costumery, drama and music you’d expect to find in any good Broadway show, and it delivered some important social and psychological messages to boot. The event had its share of mishaps and misfires, but almost all of those fell into the category of “things that would have been taken care of in previews.” If there had been previews, that is.
“Lipa On Broadway” was the first attempt by anyone to put on a frum yet authentic Broadway show. For this alone it deserves acclaim.
Lipa, together with a motley crew of actors and dancers put on a three hour show that positively sparkled with the joyous energy that comes from creativity unleashed. Although Lipa seemed a bit stiff initially, he relaxed more and more as the night progressed, particularly when he was singing with a mike in his hand. Lipa played two roles, a bizarrely dressed psychologist and a flamboyantly dressed chassidic rebbe. All the acting was over the top so if anyone came looking for a sensitive play where subtle nuances of character are finessed by experienced stage actors they were disappointed. However, that’s not what musicals are about; and this show was definitely a musical.
As is true of some musicals, the story line was a bit hard to follow; the Rebbe’s chassidim are also the psychologist’s patients and somehow they need to confront their issues on both levels. The scenes switched back and forth between the psychologist and his patients, the Rebbe and his chassidim, and sometimes just the chassidim on their own, with no discernible rhyme or reason.
The story line may have been a bit confusing, but the message seemed pretty clear; in life you need both the psychologist and the Rebbe. And both are ordinary humans who have internal conflicts potentially as disruptive and damaging as those of their patients or chassidim.
The issues the patients discussed and also the solutions offered by the psychologist were well received by the audience. What struck me in particular was the exuberant way the audience reacted to every single mentioning of the ideas of “personal growth,” “being true to yourself,” “not paying attention to what others think” and the like. Fifteen hundred homogeneously dressed heimishe folk cheering personal development as an overriding goal is not something to ignore, and the real rebbes of the world would do well to take notice.
The audiences’ sympathies were highlighted when towards the end of the show one of the characters says to Lipa as the Rebbe “Do you know what it’s like to walk into a room and have everybody hate you because you’re a little different?” The Rebbe listens and as he listens he wipes tears away. The audience laughed at this – perhaps finding it unbelievable that a Rebbe would be moved to tears by this question. But this is no ordinary Rebbe, this is Lipa, and from my perspective I was wondering if those tears were there in the rehearsal or were they born of the moment – because Lipa does know exactly that pain. I thought they were real tears and I wasn’t laughing.
Despite the fact that except for Lipa the entire cast of actors and dancers were not frum Jews, there was not a single instance of anything that could be misconstrued as off color or not in the spirit of the Torah. When was the last time that happened on Broadway!? In a world where even children’s programs are routinely filled with inappropriate innuendoes, “Lipa On Broadway” was a kiddush Hashem.
And then there was the music. The musicians were excellent, and the sound was fantastic. I was particularly impressed with the young chassidishe violinist who read and played his parts with the confidence of an experienced musician. Music is always enhanced by visuals, whether it is the soft candlelight of a kumzits or the smoke and laser lights of a stage show. And, as Lipa knows very well, costumes are extremely important too.
A musical is where all of these elements come together, and when they come together well, they produce art of the highest order; much more than the sum of their parts. Was Lipa successful in accomplishing this? “Lipa On Broadway” delivered some of the most spectacular visually-enhanced music in the history of Jewish music. My personal favorites were the Rebbe and chassidim singing “Kol Haneshama” and the robot-like costumes and dance movements in “Can You Hang Up The Phone” – and I don’t even like that song!
Lipa may not be a real psychologist, but he did a really good job reflecting some important issues we as a community have to face. He may not be a credentialed rebbe, but in “Lipa On Broadway” he is teaching us by example how to channel creativity towards avodas Hashem without letting the harsh judgments of others get in the way.
About the Author: Rabbi Shmuel Skaist, a close talmid of R’ Shlomo Friefeld, zt”l, is a speaker and musician and has been teaching Torah and been involved in kiruv across the U.S. and Israel for 25 years. He is the rosh yeshiva of The Yeshiva at IDT and a senior lecturer at Ohr Naava.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.
If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.