Review: Bar Mitzvah Boy


I suspect Jack Rosenthal would have approved. This endearing, revamped version of what has to be the most Jewish musical since Fiddler On The Roof may be closer to the show Rosenthal envisaged when he turned his popular 1976 TV play into a less popular 1978 musical. It didn't do well in the West End. And then it didn't do well in New York. On that occasion, Rosenthal complained that the soul of the show - about a Jewish boy who goes AWOL just as he's about to be barmitzvah-ed - had been sacrificed on the altar of the grand Broadway musical.

And you can see how dispiriting an experience that must have been for a man who wrote on such a human scale. Even with the Jewish dream team of Rosenthal, Gypsy composer Jule Styne and lyricist Don Black, it's hard to imagine how this show was ever intended to be big. For a start, the story, though it has huge heart, is all.

Eliot Green (Adam Bregman) is our narrator. He is suitably embarrassed by his archetypal Jewish parents (what are parents for?). His mum Rita (Sue Kelvin) and cab driver Dad (Robert Maskell) have sunk most of their cash and all of their aspirations into his barmitzvah. As Eliot's sister Leslie (a sweet-voiced Lara Stubbs) says, the day will probably be for them more than it is for Eliot.

Stewart Nicholls's compact revival probably has it about right. His show is an intimate, warm-hearted portrait of a Willesden family and their suburban lives. And although Upstairs at the Gatehouse doesn't give him much choice in the matter, the director takes full advantage of the venue's limitations by coming up with a production that accentuates this show's merits as a chamber piece.

As Rita, Kelvin gives herself licence to do Jewish angst to the max. Every thought is a worry; every plan an impending disaster. As Eliot's proud but emotionally absent dad, Robert Maskell's Victor lives life in permanent suspension between a kvell and a kvetch. And, in the title role, Bregman has exactly that awkward, premature adultness that is particular to the nice Jewish boy.

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