At the Movies: Two Newsy Jews
The hit Broadway musical, “Newsies,” is being shown in movie theaters across the country on Feb. 16, 18, and 22. Filmed live on stage in Los Angeles, this rousing show co-stars original Broadway stars JEREMY JORDAN, 32, as Jack Kelley and BEN FANKAUSER, 27, as Davey. “Newsies” began as an original movie musical with songs by ALAN MENKEN, now 67, lyrics by JACK FELDMAN, now 68. It was a box office flop, but gained a cult following over the years. It became a smash Broadway hit in 2012, aided by a new “book” by HARVEY FIERSTEIN, now 62. The story is set in the 1890s and is based on a true story. Kelley is a newsboy and the leader of ragged teenaged newsies--- and- long story short—gets them a better deal for their work. Davey is another newsboy and Jack’s smart ally and friend. (It is playing at the Hyde Park Cinebistro and the Westshore Plaza).
Jordan’s parents divorced when he was very young and his Jewish mother (his father isn’t Jewish) struggled to support him and two siblings. But he was a very good student and he got a college scholarship. Shortly after graduation, he got his first Broadway musical role and he’s been starring ever since in a series of shows and in “Smash,” the TV series. Fankhauser has been profiled in the Detroit, Cleveland, and San Diego Jewish papers. His maternal grandparents were both Holocaust survivors. His parents (a Swiss Jewish businessman and an American Jewish psychologist) met in Detroit, Ben’s mother’s hometown. Ben’s parents divorced when he was 5 and his mother relocated to Cleveland, where Ben went to Hebrew School and was confirmed. During the last two years, he has co-starred in a national road company of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” He played the great songwriter BARRY MANN, now 77.
Over on HBO
Premiering this Sunday, Feb. 19, is “Big Little Lies,” a new, limited series. The show is an adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s 2014 darkly comic novel of the same name. It revolves around three mothers of kindergartners — Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Jane (Shailene Woodley) — whose apparently perfect lives unravel to the point of murder. ZOE KRAVITZ, 28, plays Bonnie Carlson, who is married to Madeline’s ex-husband. Bonnie is a spiritual yoga instructor, a sensitive soul with a strong moral compass.
I Loved Mary, But….
I loved Mary Tyler Moore. She lit up the TV screen in her signature starring roles in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore” show. But I was distressed when I saw a recent tribute piece in the Jewish press that “cast” Mary and Grant Tinker (a producer she was married to from 1962-1981) in roles they never played. This writer credited them with the following: (1) That the ”Van Dyke Show” had an explicitly Jewish character in the 1960s, when few other shows did (Buddy; played by the late MOREY AMSTERDAM); (2) that “TMTMS” had a major Jewish character, too (Rhoda; played by Valerie Harper, who isn’t Jewish); and (3) that in a memorable episode of “TMTMS,” Mary, the character, stood up to anti-Semitic discrimination directed at Rhoda.
However, Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker never had a big hand in the creation and writing of her shows. Tinker has some role getting “TMTMS” on the air. But he didn’t create or write it---and while “TMTMS” was, in name, a joint enterprise of the couple---Ms. Moore candidly said that Tinker completely handled their business dealings.
“Think Yiddish, Write British,” is an old line among Jewish writers to describe how they take material (comedy or drama) from their Jewish background or sensibility and translate it into material that retains comedy and/or pathos—but is relatable to the overwhelmingly non-Jewish world. CARL REINER, now 94, drew from his own experience in writing, with a pack of other Jews, the “Sid Caesar Show,” when he created “Van Dyke.” Then he plucked Moore out of obscurity to co-star. She said they virtually had a father-daughter relationship. Likewise, the brilliant JAMES L. BROOKS, now 76, was the main creator and writing overseer of “TMTMS.” Moore’s contribution, which was huge, was to take this “translated material” and be its brilliant vessel----not a dumbed down “All-American girl”—but a smart American woman that every type of American could relate to, and laugh with. Reiner and Brooks knew she had a huge hand in their success and said so in their tributes after her recent death.