Mishkan Torah Purim Spiel
Purim is a Jewish holiday that falls between late February and late March. It commemorates the triumph of the Jewish people over evil Haman in ancient Persia. The Jews were led by the brave Mordechai and helped by Queen Esther, and the story is told in the biblical book of Esther. At Purim, the Book of Esther (the Megillah) is read aloud, triangular pastries called Hamantaschen (“Haman’s pockets”) are eaten, and there are usually costume parties. Another tradition is to stage a Purim spiel (“shpil means ‘game’ or ‘(stage) play’ in Yiddish”— Wikipedia) that tells the Purim story. On March 3, I attended a Purim spiel at Greenbelt’s Mishkan Torah Synagogue.
Mishkan Torah’s Purim spiel “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Purim” was written by Jeffrey Rosen, directed by David Herschler and first performed 1987. There are close to 20 musical numbers, and they borrow from popular Broadway, opera, Gilbert and Sullivan and rock ‘n’ roll tunes. 25 years later, Rosen has updated some of pieces and Herschler is once again the director. In this photo, the full cast except Haman sings the opening number, “Purim Spiel Tonight.” Pictured here is Mordechai played by Bret Goldstein.
Queen Vashti (“a harridan,” Yael Fischman) and King Ahasuerus of Persia (Ben Greenfield) sing “Habanera,” based on a famous aria from Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen.”
The King is granted a divorce and he holds a beauty contest to select his next queen. Here Miss Inner Outer Mongolia (Marissa Lowery) demonstrates championship Anatolian camel call. Obviously, she is not selected.
Mordechai recommends his niece, Esther. “Can you sing?” “I can hum a little.” Esther (Rachel White) then sings “On the Edge” based on Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory,” to great fanfare.
Darelynn Fung, here dancing to the Lady Gaga tune, is the play’s choreographer.
Queen Esther is crowned.
And they kiss.
Three “Doo-Wopping Plotters” and Mordechai sing “In the Still of the Night” based on a popular song from the 1950s.
The narrator is Evey Herschler who played this same role 25 years earlier. “After the plotters were finished here, the King promoted a new prime minister. That prime minister, by some cruel fate, was Haman, the man you love to hate.” Here Herschler is holding up a sign that says “BOO” and spinning a Purim gragger, a noisemaker. By tradition, when Haman’s name is spoken out at Purim, people boo or make noise with various noisemakers.
Haman makes his first appearance in the play. He is played by Jeffrey Rosen and he comes out singing “I Am the Perfect Picture of a Potentate Prime Minister” based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.”
Rosen is wearing the same red-lined cape that he wore in the 1987 show.
“You know how bad I am?”
“How bad are you?”
“Let me put it this way. I make Osama Bin Laden look like Justin Bieber, on steroids. I am exactly the kind of man your parents do not want you to grow up to be. I know your parents. I’m a negative role model.”
Haman runs into Mordechai on the street of Shushan.
“I am Prime Minister Haman, and you must bow to me here and now.”
“Well, I am Mordechai the Jew, and we Jews don’t bow.”
Mordechai (Bret Goldstein) sings “We Jews Don’t Bow” based on “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” a popular song from 1962.
Haman has conceived an evil plot to kill all Jews in Persia. Here he and the King sing “My Eyes Are Fully Open” based on a tune from Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “Ruddigore.”
Mordechai rides through the streets of Shushan, and the townspeople sing “Triumphal Parade” (Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus”).
Mordechai consults with Queen Esther.
And Queen Esther arranges a party with her ladies-in-waiting.
“Esther’s parties were always the rage. They were the headline on every society page.” Mordechai makes his appearance as Esther’s uncle, and the King realizes that his wife is Jewish and is condemned to death in Haman’s scheme.
“Here’s A Howdy-Doo” is based on a tune from Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “The Mikado.”
Haman’s evil scheme is recognized and he is sentenced to death by hanging. The cast then sings “Going to the Gallows” based on “Going to the chapel and we’re gonna to get married.”
A happy ending
Haman appears to loud boos.
The accompanist for tonight’s play is Arielle Bayer.
The finale is a reprise of three earlier numbers, “Purim Spiel Tonight,” “We Jews Don’t Bow,” and “Walk Like a Man.”
A large crowd is in attendance and nearly every seat is taken.
Jeffrey Rosen (right), the writer, and David Herschler, the director, acknowledge applauses.
Rachel White (Queen Esther) and Ben Greenfield (King Ahasuerus) are real-life fiancés.
Rosen is congratulated by everyone.