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SJ Super 7

by: Leslie Bunder and Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2004-12-28

The Producers

The Producers

The seven most amazing things in Jewish life and culture over the past 12 months, including the London debut of The Producers, the return of the Beastie Boys, Sacha Baron Cohen’s superb new show and The X Factor’s Jewish element.

1. The Producers hits London: Having become one of the biggest Broadway hits of the past few years, the stage version of Mel Brooks’ The Producers finally reached the London stage in October. The production suffered a setback at the last minute when Richard Dreyfuss – who was set to play Max Bialystock alongside Lee Evans as Leo Bloom – quit just a few days before previews were due to begin. Fortunately Nathan Lane, who originally played the role on Broadway (and will reprise it in the upcoming film version) stepped in at the last minute to replace Dreyfuss, and helped the show become a huge hit on this side of the Atlantic. More recently it won Best Musical at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, despite being in the West End for less than two months. Lane is due to remain in the show until early January, when Brad Oscar – who also played Bialystock on Broadway, will take over.

 

2. Beasties check out charts: Rap trio the Beastie Boys made a welcome return to the charts with their first single since 1999, with Ch-Ch-Check It Out going straight in at No 8. However, Jewish fans should pay close attention to the lyrics and theme, which might just be the most Jewish thing the boys have ever done. Not only do they namecheck Star Trek and pay homage to William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the video (who are also listed in the credits) but they also refer to Einstein, Lorne Greene (Canadian-born star of Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica), Miss Piggy (voiced by Jewish Muppets co-creator Frank Oz) and ‘baby Bubbe’.

 

3. Best reason to stay in and watch TV: if you haven’t yet caught US comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, then it’s about time you did.  The third series of the show, in which Seinfeld creator Larry David takes an offbeat look at his life and lurches from one personal disaster to the next, was recently shown on digital channel E4, and included such highlights as The Special Section – a genuinely hysterical episode in which Larry is forced to turn grave-robber after his mother dies. The fourth series, which is due to be shown in the UK some time in 2005, sees Larry being lined up to star in the Producers on Broadway, and features appearance from the likes of Mel Brooks and Ben Stiller. Meanwhile, the second series was released on DVD this year, meaning viewers once again had the opportunity to see the classic moment when David was pronounced a ‘self-loathing Jew’ for whistling a few bars of Wagner outside a cinema. Superb stuff.

 

4. Milken’s UK debut: The US Milken Archive, which has been releasing tons of Jewish music over the past 18 months – some of which hasn’t been heard since your own Booba saw it –launched itself in the UK. 10 of its most popular CDs, featuring work by the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill, were among the first to be issued here, with a further two set to follow each month. At a recent press launch for the collection, Milken’s artistic director Neil Levin revealed they have also filmed over 1000 hours worth of Jewish video. You can find out more at: www.milkenarchive.org

 

5. Rowetta’s dream came true: X-Factor contestant Rowetta made it to the final nine of ITV1’s talent show The X-Factor – and although she only came fourth, gained herself quite a following. The former Happy Mondays backing vocalist, who revealed in an earlier show that she has a Jewish mother and Nigerian father told SJ exclusively that being in the final was “a fantastic feeling. I’m still pinching myself,” she said. And what does her mum think? “My mum is thrilled. She’s wanted me to do well for so long, and this could be my big break, even at my ripe old age. Definitely worth the wait though.”

 

6. Jewish sounds of the year: There’s been some great new Jewish music this year, with SJ’s favourites including The Makkabees, a group given to doing heavy metal versions of Jewish standards. Their thrashy version of Hava Nagila – featured on their album Vol Aleph – has to be heard to be believed, and you can hear it, and other tracks, at: www.makkabees.com Other musical highlights of 2004 included Homesick Songs, the new album from New York klezmer combo Golem, which featured up-to-date versions of songs made famous in the shtetls of Eastern Europe. Find out more at: www.golemrocks.com . Finally, one of the funniest tracks of the year was the Chanukah song based on the 2003 hit Hey Ya!, by rap duo OutKast.! The new song, by the comedian and musician Eric Schwartz (aka Smooth-E) is chock-full of references to latkes and lighting candles, as well as pondering the different spellings of Chanukah itself – and it also comes complete with some very clever graphics. See for yourself at: http://home.nc.rr.com/keehyun/stuff/jew-heyya.html, and find out more about Eric at his own site: www.suburbanhomeboy.com

 

7. Sensational Sacha: SJ’s favourite Habonim old boy Sacha Baron Cohen truly surpassed himself on his new show Borat’s Television Programme. Every episode of the programme, in which Cohen starred as Kazakhstani TV presenter Borat, is filled with Jewish references. Despite offending a few people including America’s Anti-Defamation League, Jews and non-Jews appreciate the irony of the character, who is getting bigots to reveal their prejudices. Highlights included Cohen’s rousing rendition of a country and western song entitled Throw The Jew Down The Well, as well as a look at a game hunter, when asked by Cohen whether it was OK to shoot Jews in America. Well done Mr Cohen – you are a true mensch.