With its aura of invulnerability and air of showmanship, magic has been a powerful draw for Jewish performers. Indeed, from Harry Houdini to David Copperfield, Jews have been over-represented as conjurers and illusionists. Now comes “Gary Goldfarb, Master Escapist,” a new musical by Omri Schein (book and lyrics) and James Olmstead (music) about a suburban Jewish boy who dabbles in magic in order to boost his social standing. It opens) next week at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), which is now in its 10th year.
Directed by John Znidarsic, the play is the tale of Gary Goldfarb (Jared Loftin), a pudgy Jewish boy from Ronkonkoma who does a magic act in his school’s talent show in order to impress his friends, free himself from the school bully, and win the heart of a sexy half-Jewish and half-Indian girl named Cheryl Samatasinghar-Stein (Shoba Narayanan).
The playwright grew up in South Africa, but moved to Israel at the age of 11. Three years later, his family moved again — to the United States, where he attended high school first in Milwaukee and then on Staten Island. After training in musical theater at SUNY Oneonta and San Diego State, he started writing musicals; “Gary Goldfarb“ is his first to be produced.
In an interview, Schein told The Jewish Week that magic has been his passion since adolescence. “I took my bar mitzvah money and ran to a magic shop,” he said. The show contains what he calls “not Vegas magic, but pretty good amateur magic,” including a scaled down version of Houdini’s famous water torture illusion and the trick that involves thrusting swords through a box containing someone’s head.
“I like stories about underdogs and things that are slightly grotesque,” Schein explained, making the darkly comic musical a “kid’s show for adults — a show with an inspirational message.” The title has a double meaning, Schein noted, in that the main character “wants to escape from his life. He wants to accomplish a big feat and finally get someone to pay attention to him.” In the end, though, he discovers that “everyone has worth, no matter what you look like and no matter what you do.”
“Gary Goldfarb, Master Escapist” will be performed at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St. (near Tenth Ave.). Performances are Wednesday, July 17 at 9 p.m., Saturday, July 20 at 5 p.m., Sunday, July 21 at 9 p.m., Wednesday, July 24 at 1 p.m. and Saturday, July 27 at 5 p.m. For tickets, $25, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit nymf.org.