Theater Review: Ah, Jerusalem!

Beit Shmuel, February 21.

Ah Jerusalem (photo credit: Gura Berger)
Ah Jerusalem
(photo credit: Gura Berger)
Taking on the subject of Jerusalem and lofty ideas like personal transformation in the framework of a musical comedy is recipe for disaster.
Oh, and did I mention time travel? But somehow, whether due to the involvement of Hollywood pro Bernie Kukoff or just a good old-fashioned Kotel-inspired miracle, Ah, Jerusalem! pulls it off with whimsy, charm and grace.
Hoping to establish a “must-see” stop on any tourist’s sojourn to Jerusalem, Kukoff and his creative partner, Jerusalem-based composer and musical director Danny Paller have created an enjoyable, light-hearted romp through history.
Consisting of part Neil Simon romantic couple comedy, part Monty Python visuals (the Crusader scene) and lots of witty, good-natured repartee in both dialogue and musical numbers, Ah, Jerusalem! triumphs on the likability of its cast.
Without an edgy bone in their collective bodies, the little- known players are led by Nitzan Sitzer in the role of Charles Axelrod, an American Jew from Indianapolis who receives a vision from his Uncle Mordechai to abandon his vacation plans in Cancun to redeem his family’s Jewish heritage in Jerusalem.
Sitzer’s psychologist nerd persona gives way to crowd-pleasing comic timing and excellent dancing, a trait shared by Gady Weissbart, whose hassidic apparition Uncle Mordechai steals the early part of the show with his Yiddish rapping ability.
The potentially awkward trips back in time to the days of King Solomon, a Crusader castle and a 1922 pre-state Israel by Axelrod and his wife and daughter – played by Roni Yacobovitz and Miri Fraenkel respectively – are handled skillfully, probably thanks to Kukoff’s decades of experience with pacing on TV shows and on Broadway.
To its credit, and maybe to its detriment, the show doesn’t really delve into the life-changing experiences that many people go through in discovering their Jewish roots. That rather superficial approach – these assimilated Jews learn about their heritage and Israel, then what – suits the confines of the musical comedy genre better than a deep-issue discourse that results in the show’s hero growing peyot and donning a kippa. Still, it would have given the professionally performed 75 minutes of entertainment a little more oomph if something like that did take place.
As enjoyable and welcome on the Jerusalem cultural landscape as it is, Ah, Jerusalem! isn’t likely to evoke many ‘wow!’ reactions from the satisfied audience. More likely it will be “ah, nice.”
Ah, Jerusalem! is performed every Sunday and Thursday