Cabaret Act Revives Music of Warsaw

By Rivka Chaya Schiller

Published March 02, 2007, issue of March 02, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

On a frigid January evening in New York City, Rebecca Joy Fletcher and Stephen Mo Hanan performed their two-person act, “Kleynkunst!: Warsaw’s Brave and Brilliant Yiddish Cabaret,” before a full house at Helen’s Restaurant, Cabaret & Piano Lounge in Chelsea, as part of a five-day-long European cabaret festival called Kabarett Fête.

The title of Fletcher’s act is an allusion to the kleynkunst theaters: Yiddish-language cabarets of the interwar period, popular in European cities that had major Jewish populations. One of the leading urban centers for this particular cabaret scene was Warsaw. These uniquely Jewish cabarets were considered virtual dens of iniquity by the more religious elements of the community; indeed, they were often frequented by Jews who had parted ways with their traditional and Yiddish-speaking upbringings. Kleynkunst theaters were also havens for Jewish underworld figures — smugglers, bandits and prostitutes — the likes of which appear in the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, one of Warsaw’s own.

Fletcher, who is also a cantor and educator, received a standing ovation for her well-researched performance, which featured the archival songs and comedic material of past kleynkunst theaters in a new light, taking the audience on a journey into the beauty and rawness of the era stretching from the 1920s through the ’40s. By the end of the first song, “Mackie Messer” — otherwise known as “Mack the Knife” — Fletcher had already succeeded in mesmerizing the audience with her stirring voice and comic timing. Moreover, those audience members who could understand the Yiddish repertoire were in for a real treat, as Fletcher’s Yiddish flowed smoothly and naturally. She even managed to learn Yiddish in the Polish — or, more specifically, Warsaw — dialect, to bring a certain air of authenticity to her performance.

Although at its core, “Kleynkunst!” wove together a series of mostly satiric and humorous sketches set to Yiddish song lyrics, the hour-long performance was also interspersed seamlessly with English dialogue, jokes and songs. In this way, even audience members who did not understand Yiddish were likewise drawn into the overall message of the performance. “My goal is to bring enough empowerment to the audience, such that they can enter this magical world, even if they don’t understand every word,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher believes fervently in the broad appeal of “Kleynkunst!” — which she wrote and theater veteran Michael Montel directed. As such, she ultimately hopes to present this performance to audiences of Jews and gentiles alike, both locally and internationally. For now, she will reprise the show this month in New York.

“Kleynkunst!” will be performed in New York City on March 11 at Makor (212-601-1000), and March 20, April 12 and April 19 at Helen’s (212-206-0609). For information about other performances, visit www.rebeccajoyfletcher.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.