Frum Star, Theater Dark On The Sabbath
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Frum Star, Theater Dark On The Sabbath

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

There may be no business like it, but it’s a business all the same.

In the old days, it was simply impossible for Jews to star on Broadway but be excused from performing on the Sabbath. Today, in the wake of Dudu Fisher’s Sabbath exemption from playing the lead role in “Les Miz,” producers are more willing to accommodate observant Jewish performers.

In the new Long Island revival of “Jekyll and Hyde,” opening next week at SUNY Old Westbury’s Maguire Theater, star David Yudell will not appear on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. The twist is that Yudell will have no understudy for these performances; the theater will simply be dark.

Yudell, who grew up in a nominally Conservative Jewish family in upstate Poughkeepsie, became observant after marrying a Sephardic Jewish woman from Afghanistan. He has starred Off Broadway in “Godiva Was a Lady” and has appeared in numerous regional and dinner theater productions.

“I feel proud because I turn around assimilation in my family,” Yudell said. “My great-grandmother came over from Russia and was an observant Jew, but each generation lost a degree of religious observance. Now, I now go to shul every week, my kids attend yeshiva and my eldest just graduated from Stern College.

“I feel fortunate that the producers believed in my talent enough to accommodate my religious obligations.”

“Jekyll and Hyde,” which ran on Broadway from 1997 to 2001, is the inaugural production of a new professional theater season at the state university campus, which lost its music department to state budget cuts more than a decade ago. The revival is not only using large portions of the original Broadway set but is doing a Broadway-level advertising blitz on billboards, commuter trains, and radio.

The production will take place in accordance with the college schedule, running in November and then taking a hiatus for December and January before reopening for the month of February (www.ovationtix.com, [866] 811-4111).

Jeffrey Gurock, a leading scholar of Orthodox Jews in America, called Yudell’s situation “extraordinary but not unprecedented.” Beyond Fisher, he mentioned Cantor Yussele Rosenblatt, who famously turned down an offer to star in Halevy’s “La Juive” at the Chicago Opera, despite a clause in his contract that would have excused him from performing on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

While closing the theater on the Sabbath might seem to be bad for business, Gurock told The Jewish Week, it may attract more Orthodox Jews during the week, who want to show support for the star. Casting Yudell is, he said, “a major step in the accommodation of Orthodox Jews in America.”

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