In 2015, the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene celebrated its 100th anniversary in grand style, producing, in June, KulturfestNYC, New York’s first international Jewish performing arts festival, and in December, a highly-acclaimed revival of Yiddish operetta “The Golden Bride.” In 2016, they have no intention of letting that momentum go. Starting June 6th KulturfestNYC is back, expanded, and ready to have every New Yorker humming a bit of Klezmer, if not walking more slowly to hear it.
The festival, which runs through the end of August, describes its own programming as eclectic. (Given that one coffee and conversation event is titled, tantalizingly, “Kugel: a National Binding Agent Between Two Worlds,” that label looks to be delightfully warranted.) While the offerings are focused on theater and music, the festival will be punctuated by a conversation series (of which the kugel kvelling is the first installment), walking tours, and a midtown street fair.
In terms of theater and music, the encore run of the joyful romp “The Golden Bride,” which garnered two Drama Desk nominations and is returning with its original cast, is a sure bet. It will be running for eight weeks at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a producing partner of Kulturfest. In two performances at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, Israeli playwright Dani Horowitz’s “Uncle Arthur,” a one-man show about the difficulty of communicating experiences in the Holocaust, will lend the festival a darker note, as will George Kaiser’s “Tonight, Lola Blau,” the story of a Viennese cabaret performer caught up in World War II. And thrillingly – not least because it’s free – “Tararam,” known as Israel’s “Stomp,” will put on an outdoor performance next to the Museum of Jewish Heritage on August 7th.
On the music side, Klezmer abounds, especially in a series of “Klezmer Brunches” featuring various artists at City Winery. Beyond that genre, standout events are likely to include the opening-night performance of the internationally acclaimed Yemen Blues, an outfit that combines Yemenite Muslim, Christian, and Jewish musical traditions, the Central Park Summer Stage “Yiddish Soul” concert on June 15th featuring, among many, Dudu Fisher and The Maccabeats, and the closing performance of Jinta La Mvta, Japan’s foremost Klezmer band, whose invigorating, atmospheric performance at last year’s Kulturfest was a hit.
For the Folksbiene, it’s a heartening affirmation that Jewish performing arts culture – and, significantly, its Yiddish component – is not only vigorous, but increasingly so. At 101 years old, it has a lot of life left to celebrate.
Talya Zax is the Forward’s culture intern. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TalyaZax