Paying tribute to the Jewish composers who created the musical

"The majority of all the melodies we love so much are derived from Jewish prayers. People don't know and we want to tell them."


In the Tel Aviv Museum of Art concert hall, a show is being honed before it arrives in London for its West End premiere. It is provocatively called You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews, a title many will recognise from one of the more outrageous songs in Monty Python's Spamalot musical. Some Israelis didn't get the joke.

"On the first day we started selling tickets, we had around 50 messages from people complaining about an English antisemitic theatre group who are coming to Israel," laughs co-producer Daniel Donskoy.

When the show arrives in London next week, audiences at the St James's Theatre will probably recognise the title as the cheeky but well-meant tribute to Jewish musical theatre that it genuinely is.

For the point of You Won't Succeed… is paying tribute to the Jewish composers who largely created America's greatest cultural export - the musical.

"From the 1920s to 2015 the show tells the stories of all the composers and where they come from," Donskoy explains.

The production may be celebratory but the experience that inspired it was anything but. Donskoy and his fellow first-time producer Michaela Stern met at London auditions for a musical last year. The Gaza conflict was raging at the time.

"We are both actors as well as producers," explains Donskoy "and while we were waiting to audition, somebody walked in with a newspaper that had a headline along the lines of 'Israel baby killers'. The person with the newspaper was going on about boycotting Israel and I couldn't keep shtum. It turned into a political conversation and to my rescue came the lovely Ms Stern. We were the only two Jews in the room. We didn't get the job.'"

But they stayed in touch, explains Stern taking up the story. "We both wanted to produce and we thought 'now is the time to start'. So we sat down to work out what we wanted our show to be." During this period, both Donskoy, 25, and Stern, 22, found themselves doing battle with a wave of anti-Israel and, they say, anti-Jewish rhetoric on social media.

"Both our Facebook pages had a lot of non-Jewish people within our industry who all of a sudden were [anti-Israel] politicians.

"It became really hard for Jewish people in our industry. Social media was a very lonely place in the summer. You felt like you were fighting a constant battle. The word 'Israel' wasn't used very often. The word 'Jew' was."

"The Jewish community is shown in one of three ways in Europe," adds Donskoy. "Holocaust survivors and victims; rich people who control the world, or as Israelis who kill Palestinians. We decided as young, ambitious people in the Jewish community, who also have strong ties to Israel, that we had to do something. And what better way of countering these perceptions than inviting people to a musical celebration?

"Even Jewish people sometimes don't know where the majority of Broadway melodies come from. They are from old folk songs made from three chords that everyone could sing. Even Cole Porter, who was not Jewish, said that his success came from writing Jewish melodies like George and Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin."

So committed are the duo to the cause that they have sunk their savings into the show.

"We have nothing left," says Stern, who describes herself as "born and bred in Redbridge. A true Essex girl."

"We're sleeping in the theatre," adds the Russian-born Donskoy, whose mother lives in Tel Aviv.

A little oddly, the pair issued a statement to be used in the British publicity material for the show which states that it "is not in any way political". But as Donskoy admits, the show is political, at least in its inception if not the content.

"We feel it's possible to be an ambassador to Israel and the Jewish community," he concludes.

"The Jewish origins of so much musical theatre is not widely known.

"The majority of all the melodies we love so much are derived from Jewish prayers. People don't know and we want to tell them. We want to show them the Jewish contribution to what they love."

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive