Concert Preview: Get that synagogue-ey jazz feel

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

Jazz good 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jazz good 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Atthe age of eight he started learning piano and singing in the schoolchoir. His dream was to become a concert pianist. However, upondiscovering that he did not have the stamina required to practice forhours, Yisrael Lutnick embarked on a different musical journey, onethat 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, heexpresses a nervousness that one would not expect from a seasonedprofessional, especially one who spends as much time in the public eyeas he does - Lutnick directs, writes and performs musical theater, andspends his Saturdays delivering sermons at the pulpit as the rabbi of aMevasseret Zion congregation.
Lutnick's one-man performance, accompanied by The IsraelMusicals Orchestra - Alon Sterm Ensemble, and concert pianist RobertFuchs, draws on years of song-writing, starting with the period inwhich he was studying music at Yeshiva University and undertakingcantorial training.
Lutnick describes his upcoming performance: "The new show I amdoing is a mix of music and Judaism. In it, I attempt to combine mylove of teaching and sharing, with my love of music, he says. "Lately,I've been performing mostly musical theater, both in my one-manconcerts and in the shows I produce through Israel Musicals. I felt aneed to reconnect to the Jewish side of me. I also wanted to reconnectwith 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."
Duringthe performance Lutnick asks the audience questions, shares stories andperforms music with his band, including songs by George Gershwin, BillyJoel, Naomi Shemer, cantorial tunes and some of his own creations.
Whilst the primary aim of the one and a half hour show is toentertain the audience, Lutnick hopes that his performances will alsospark self-reflection and conversation amongst members of the audience."In the course of the show, I try to get people to look at the thingsthat are wrong with the world in slightly different ways, so that wecan 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 theso-called religious-secular divide, the slanders that Israel issubjected to and the things that can create unhappiness in our lives."
AlthoughLutnick, the artistic director and producer of Israel Musicals, hasbeen writing music for many years, it was not until a few years agothat he decided that musical theater was where he would like to focushis energies. "After September 11, I felt a need to branch out from theworld of Jewish music into musical theater, which I had always loved. Igot a lead role in the Capital Musical Theater production of Any Dream Will Do backin February 2002. That was it. I knew I needed to be doing musicaltheater, and I wanted to do it at the highest level," Lutnick explains.
After spending the next few years taking acting and singingclasses in New York, Lutnick returned to Israel, and in 2007 createdIsrael Musicals, whose first production was the musical, If I could Rewrite the World.
Over the past three years Israel Musicals has produced threeother stage musicals and two concert series. The Israel Musicals teamis currently preparing for the upcoming performance of Annieand Lutnick continues to dream about future plans for the company. "Mydream for Israel Musicals is to create professional musical theaterright here in Israel. That is something that takes a lot of help frompeople who are passionate about it. It is great when such peoplecontact me and want to be involved. It will also require the support ofpeople 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 isperforming musical theater, Lutnick explains that it is simply uncommonfor a rabbi to choose such a career path. "How many Orthodox rabbis doyou know that do musical theater?" he says.
"It is not very common. Dudu Fisher, who was the first Sabbathobserver, as far as I know, to land a Broadway show, is a role modelfor me. Rab Shlomo Carlebach was the most fantastic storyteller. Ithink that's why I love musical theater, because it's all about tellingstories. It's a beautiful way to express beautiful and importantthoughts," says Lutnick.
The Singing Rabbi performs on Sunday at 8 p.m. at FelicjaBlumental Center, Tel Aviv, (03) 620-1185 and on Thursday at 8 p.m. atMofet, Rehovot.