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Oy! What a Show!
If they're playing Hava Nagilah, Tsena Tsena and selections from "Fiddler on the Roof" on saxophones, string bass and accordion, and all the men are dancing together, it's got to be a Jewish wedding, right?
Could be, but if sequins, banjos and feathers are involved, it's most likely the Avalon String Band, performing right on Broad Street, New Year's Day 2009.
This Mummers' band, comprised entirely of amateur showmen, has a history of showcasing various ethnic groups' culture, and selected a Jewish theme for 2009. None of the current members are Jewish. (There is one emeritus.)
Yet they won fifth place for their spirited presentation last week that featured 12-foot-tall backdrops covered with menorahs, a dreidel, a Torah and the Luchot Habrit.
Sure enough, a lamé-clothed Tevye played his fiddle on a traveling roof while similarly shiny shtetl folk danced in circles below, continuously playing their instruments. Spectacular highlights included a dramatic line of 15 men on their knees dancing the bottle dance (no bottles, but plenty of saxophones); and the finale, in which Avalon Captain Jack Hee, as the Grand Rebbe in shimmering white robes, stood in the center of an elevated gigantic Star of David as they all shouted, L'chaim!
(To see the entire show, log on to: www.YouTube.com/watch?v=kU7zlLHsdB0 or www. avalonstringband.com.)
How did this happen?
"Our theme selection committee carefully evaluates all submitted ideas for exciting music, distinct costumes and potential for rousing performance," explained Kevin Crouch (alto sax), a CPA and the business manager for Avalon. It is not known who submitted this suggestion. "Once they've selected the theme, that's it, and everyone gets to work."
A skilled member selects thematic musical highlights and writes transitions to form one four-minute piece. They consult a choreographer to research dance moves, and another consultant annually helps with costume and scenery design, but no one called a synagogue or rabbi.
"We all watched 'Fiddler On the Roof' a thousand times!" reported Crouch. "And the member who painted the tablets watched "The Ten Commandments," which is why there are no actual Hebrew letters on it.
The roots of mummery are, after all, folk mimicry -- not authentic replication.
"Because the Jewish theme is both ethnic and religious, we wanted to be careful not to offend anyone. There was a lot of dialogue about that."
So far, they have received only praise for their efforts.
Comments e-mailed about their show include L'chaim!, Mazel tov! and "Oye! Loved it!"
What do Mummers do between New Years?
They perform at public and private events -- and plan next year's performance.