In the rich history of the Yiddish Theater in America, no two names are more prominent than Boris and Bessie Tomashefsky. From the 1890s well into the 20th century, the Tomashefsky's were matinee idols, whose humble backgrounds mirrored the lives of so many in their devoted audience. They came from Russian immigrant families; Boris's parents settled in New York's Lower East Side, where, as a teen, he worked in a cigarette sweatshop and dreamed of the stage. He got his chance in 1887, when he bribed the female star of a current Yiddish theater production, paying her to acquire a sore throat so he could take over her part. On he went in drag and became a hit. Later, while the play was on tour in Baltimore, a 14-year-old girl named Bessie Kaufman went backstage to meet the beautiful actress, only to discover that “she” was dashingly handsome 19-year-old Boris Thomashefsky. They fell in love, she ran away from home to join him as a performer, and the two became the most famous couple on the Yiddish stage. But it gets more interesting. They had a son, Ted, who later changed his name to Ted Thomas and became a stage manager. And Ted had a son, Michael Tilson Thomas. That's right, the Michael Tilson Thomas–who, for the past ten years, has dedicated himself to a true labor of love, painstakingly researching over 1000 documents related to the lives and careers of his famous grandparents and putting it all together in a work that recounts “the struggles and triumphs of two immigrant teens in the U.S.” This week, The Tomashefskys comes to Disney Hall in a delightful, insightful production that features Thomas as narrator, four singers, vintage recordings, film clips and projections of archival photos and posters. Now that's a mishpocheh. Directed by Patricia Birch, the cast includes Broadway star Neal Benari as Boris and actress/opera singer Judy Blazer as Bessie.
Thu., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Fri., Dec. 19, 11 a.m.; Sat., Dec. 20, 8 p.m., 2008
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