Concert Preview: Get that synagogue-ey jazz feel

Musician and actor Yisrael Lutnick has rightly acquired the name "The Broadway Rabbi."

January 22, 2010 00:46
3 minute read.
Concert Preview: Get that synagogue-ey jazz feel

Jazz good 88 224. (photo credit: Courtesy)

At the age of eight he started learning piano and singing in the school choir. His dream was to become a concert pianist. However, upon discovering that he did not have the stamina required to practice for hours, Yisrael Lutnick embarked on a different musical journey, one that would ultimately earn him a reputation as "The Broadway Rabbi."

On the phone with Lutnick prior to the Jerusalem performance of his one-man show, The Broadway Rabbi Sings His Mind, he expresses a nervousness that one would not expect from a seasoned professional, especially one who spends as much time in the public eye as he does - Lutnick directs, writes and performs musical theater, and spends his Saturdays delivering sermons at the pulpit as the rabbi of a Mevasseret Zion congregation.

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Lutnick's one-man performance, accompanied by The Israel Musicals Orchestra - Alon Sterm Ensemble, and concert pianist Robert Fuchs, draws on years of song-writing, starting with the period in which he was studying music at Yeshiva University and undertaking cantorial training.

Lutnick describes his upcoming performance: "The new show I am doing is a mix of music and Judaism. In it, I attempt to combine my love of teaching and sharing, with my love of music, he says. "Lately, I've been performing mostly musical theater, both in my one-man concerts and in the shows I produce through Israel Musicals. I felt a need to reconnect to the Jewish side of me. I also wanted to reconnect with some of the songs I recorded on my CD, Gesharim, way back in the last century. Thus was born, The Broadway Rabbi Sings His Mind."

During the performance Lutnick asks the audience questions, shares stories and performs music with his band, including songs by George Gershwin, Billy Joel, Naomi Shemer, cantorial tunes and some of his own creations.

Whilst the primary aim of the one and a half hour show is to entertain the audience, Lutnick hopes that his performances will also spark self-reflection and conversation amongst members of the audience. "In the course of the show, I try to get people to look at the things that are wrong with the world in slightly different ways, so that we can fix them. I share the Jewish perspective, as best I understand it, on how to spread harmony in the world. I talk about things like the so-called religious-secular divide, the slanders that Israel is subjected to and the things that can create unhappiness in our lives."

Although Lutnick, the artistic director and producer of Israel Musicals, has been writing music for many years, it was not until a few years ago that he decided that musical theater was where he would like to focus his energies. "After September 11, I felt a need to branch out from the world of Jewish music into musical theater, which I had always loved. I got a lead role in the Capital Musical Theater production of Any Dream Will Do back in February 2002. That was it. I knew I needed to be doing musical theater, and I wanted to do it at the highest level," Lutnick explains.

After spending the next few years taking acting and singing classes in New York, Lutnick returned to Israel, and in 2007 created Israel Musicals, whose first production was the musical, If I could Rewrite the World.

Over the past three years Israel Musicals has produced three other stage musicals and two concert series. The Israel Musicals team is currently preparing for the upcoming performance of Annie and Lutnick continues to dream about future plans for the company. "My dream for Israel Musicals is to create professional musical theater right here in Israel. That is something that takes a lot of help from people who are passionate about it. It is great when such people contact me and want to be involved. It will also require the support of people who can provide it."

As for his future plans, Lutnick hopes to continue creating music, performing and to rewrite Rewrite The World, the original Israel Musicals Production.

Asked why some may find it surprising to hear that a rabbi is performing musical theater, Lutnick explains that it is simply uncommon for a rabbi to choose such a career path. "How many Orthodox rabbis do you know that do musical theater?" he says.

"It is not very common. Dudu Fisher, who was the first Sabbath observer, as far as I know, to land a Broadway show, is a role model for me. Rab Shlomo Carlebach was the most fantastic storyteller. I think that's why I love musical theater, because it's all about telling stories. It's a beautiful way to express beautiful and important thoughts," says Lutnick.

The Singing Rabbi performs on Sunday at 8 p.m. at Felicja Blumental Center, Tel Aviv, (03) 620-1185 and on Thursday at 8 p.m. at Mofet, Rehovot.

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