Yiddish-American Musical Theatre

Paralleling the development of the Broadway musical, the Yiddish language stage in New York began in the 1880s with the musical plays of Abraham Goldfaden. Musical plays aimed at the Jewish immigrant community in New York included stirring spectacles from biblical and Jewish history, pastoral and folk plays, and, importantly, plays reflecting the lives of an immigrant community with ties to the old country. Bores and Bessie Thomashefsky were great stars of this theatre at the turn of the century.

Friedsell, Louis. Ich Bleib a Bucher. Words by Isidore Lillian.
Performed by Bessie Thomashefsky in The Green Boy.
This was a breeches part, in a play about a newly-arrived
immigrant, the "green" boy.
New York: Theodore Lohr, 1905
Sheet Music Collection

Friedsell, Louis. A' Gruss von der Heim'
Performed in Bores Thomashefsky's play The Jewish Yankee Doodle.
This song is a greeting from the old home town to the new immigrant. The play appeared at the same time as Cohan's Yankee Doodle Boy.
New York: S. Goldberg, 1906.
Sheet Music Collection

Cherniavsky, Joseph. Dance, Song and Wine. Lyrics by XXX.
New York: Thomashefsky Theatre, 1922.
Sheet Music Collection

As the Yiddish-speakiing audience aged, and more of the Jewish community became Americanized and English-speaking, it became common for sheet music to be multi-lingual. Also, in the 1920s, the focus of many of the musical plays turned to modern life in America and its impact on the community and its traditional values.

The back cover of this song includes a cast list, in both English and Yiddish, along with a cast portrait on the stage set. Bores Thomashefsky is in the top hat at left; Aaron Lebedeff is seated second from right. The cast list gives a very fair idea of the nature of the story, and the cast portrait is a rare look into the nearly vanished world of the Yiddish language musical theatre in America.


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