He may be one of the last of a dying breed, but for Yiddish vaudevillian Avi Hoffman, Catskills-type humor never goes out of style. After two previous shows, “Too Jewish?” and “Too Jewish, Too!” in the 1990s, Hoffman is back in New York, after a 15-year hiatus, with the final part of the trilogy, “Still Jewish After All These Years: A Meshugene Life in the Theater.” The show, which is playing at Stage 72 on the Upper West Side, runs through Oct. 23 (158 W. 72nd St., $45; thrice weekly performances are on an irregular schedule; brownpapertickets.com).
In an interview, Hoffman told The Jewish Week that he wrote “Still Jewish” in 2009 as a replacement for the Mel Brooks musical, “The Producers,” which his South Florida theater company was preparing to stage; it was canceled when the lead sponsor, the Jeffry M. and Barbara Picower Foundation, went bust in the Madoff scandal. While “Too Jewish?” (1994) recapitulated the Jewish immigrant saga and “Too Jewish, Too!” (1998) dealt with American Jewish entertainers of the second generation, “Still Jewish,” is, he said, his show business autobiography, “a personal show about my insane career in the theater.”
That career commenced, he said, at his birth. “I had an audience of two dozen medical students learning to do a C-section.” He first took the stage at the age of 8, playing Tevye at the Hillman Avenue Jewish Center in the Bronx; at age 10, he made his professional debut in “Bronx Express” at the Folksbiene, then located on East Broadway. After his family made aliyah, he acted in Israeli children’s theater and television, and even appeared in a film with Irish actor Richard Harris.
Moving back to the United States, Hoffman scored a breakthrough success with “Too Jewish?” a show he has performed more than 3,000 times since it premiered; it was also filmed for PBS, along with its sequel. But Hoffman found himself “typecast,” in his words, as “a little too Jewish, the go-to Jew.” By relocating to South Florida he was able to land parts in mainstream productions — roles from Billy Flynn in “Chicago” to Wilbur Turnblad in “Hairspray.” (He currently appears as a Jewish lawyer on the Starz TV series, “Magic City.”)
“Still Jewish,” Hoffman hopes, will appeal to a younger audience than is customary for his shows. “It’s a way for younger Jews to find a hook into a culture that they don’t know exists,” he said. “It doesn’t have to exclude them. It can embrace and supplement their attachment to modern America, in the way that Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David combine Jewish tradition with contemporary culture.”