They say laughter is the best medicine, but perhaps musical theater is the best therapy.
At least it is according to Eyal Sherf, the co-creator and star of a new intimate theatrical show, “How Jerry Herman Got Me Through Analysis,” playing at Don’t Tell Mama on Sept. 23 and 30. Sherf is the show’s stressed-out patient, and he finds his peace through the songs of the acclaimed Jewish musical songwriter. His accompanist, co-writer and musical director Stephen Borsuk (who happens to be an alumnus of Yeshivah of Flatbush), plays his therapist, as Sherf sings out his semi-autobiographical woes.
“Jerry Herman is often associated with glitz and glamour, and those huge production numbers,” said Sherf. “And one of those things we discovered here was it was great to use his music in a smaller context, and to really rediscover the beauty of his lyrics and music without big orchestras and sound.”
Sherf (who is this writer’s former cantor) was born and raised in Israel, and has spent the last several years in the United States working as both an actor and a cantor. All these aspects of his life feature in “Analysis.” Sherf uses songs from Herman’s most famous works, such as “Mame” and “La Cage Aux Folles,” but also from his more obscure shows, such as “Grand Tour,” a musical about a Jewish intellectual fleeing from the Nazis. Herman’s Jewish work is also featured in “Analysis” through songs from shows like “Milk and Honey,” about American widows in Israel seeking out husbands.
“I thought it was sweet and funny and deep,” said the show’s director, Austin Pendleton of the show’s concept. “In a way, Jerry Herman’s songs have a healing capacity that is all the more powerful because it sneaks up on you.”
Pendleton is a renowned theater director and actor, whose claim to fame includes being the first actor on Broadway to play the role of Motel Kamzoil in “Fiddler on the Roof,” where he says he became familiar with Judaism.
“Eyal has this thing that a lot of Jewish people have — a marvelous, kind of deep humorous self-knowledge. I associate that with Jews,” said Pendleton. “That’s among the hundred things we can all learn from Jews!”
“Relax and be in the present,” is what Sherf has learned from Herman’s music. “In a way the music kind of feeds that idea — accepting what there is and being content with that.”
After all, as Herman wrote for “La Cage Aux Folles, “I am what I am.’”
“How Jerry Herman Got Me Through Analysis” plays Mon., Sept. 23 and 30, 7:30 p.m. $8 and two-drink minimum. Don’t Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th St., (212) 757-0788, donttellmamanyc.com.