Performing Arts

Theater review: ‘Stars of David’ examines religious identity

Stars of David: Story To Song, a musical revue, began a six-city Florida tour at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
Stars of David: Story To Song, a musical revue, began a six-city Florida tour at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Ian Ibbetson

Seeking an answer to “Who am I?” is the defining journey of most lives, and our religious heritage is part of the eternally elusive solution, even if we don’t embrace that religion or its culture.

Such is the soul of Stars of David: Story To Song, a musical revue, which, despite its cripplingly kitschy title, is a surprisingly entertaining, witty and poignant look at how Jewish-Americans struggle on that journey.

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole asks during the evening, “I mean, is who you are the faith you were born into — by no choice of your own?” It is not a rhetorical question.

The show has begun a six-city Florida tour at the Broward Center, later moving to Miami, Miami Beach and West Palm Beach, among others.

It melds monologues and quips about identity raised in interviews with famous contemporary Jews. Interspersed between spoken vignettes are 13 songs keyed to those monologues — music written expressly for this show by some of the best known composers and lyricists including Jeanine Tesori, Michael Feinstein, Richard Maltby and David Shire.

Some songs and monologues are just cute throwaways, some are not as well written as others. But several are insightful observations reflecting diverse experiences ranging from agnosticism to a profound immersion. They often reference rediscovering faith because of intermarriage or the birth of children.

The raw material is drawn from a 2005 book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish in which Abigail Pogrebin, a former 60 Minutes producer, interviewed about 60 notables. She, director Gordon Greenberg and conceiver Aaron Harnick created a concert-like show that bowed off- Broadway last year.

One of the strongest segments excerpts an interview with Cole, who spoke about how he agreed for his children to be raised Catholic in deference to his wife. But with the death of his own father, he felt he had sacrificed something that he needed to relearn before passing it on to his children. Those sentiments are reflected in a song The Darkening Blue by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater (Spring Awakening).

A shattering section depicts Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memories of being forbidden, ironically by Talmudic law, to be part of the 10-man minyan to say the mourner’s prayer at her beloved mother’s funeral. Those feelings are echoed in the subsequent song, As If I Weren’t There, written by Tom Kitt (next to normal) and Pogrebin.

But there are humorous numbers such as the seemingly ultra-shiksa Gwyneth Paltrow singing about how her looks belie her heritage in (I’m A) Who Knew Jew.

The performers embrace the energetic, infectious joy of the piece. They include Avi Hoffman (who developed the Too Jewish series), Patti Gardner, Mike Westrich and Cassie Levine, accompanied on piano by Caryl Fantel. They have been guided by the director Gordon Greenberg and musical director Eric Alsford.

The scores of interviews deliver the distinct sense of pride and confusion and searching, culminating in a reinforcing validation that you’re not searching all alone.

An earlier version of this review misspelled the name of Steven Sater.

If you go

What: ‘Stars of David’ by Abigail Pogrebin and Aaron Harnick.

Where: Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale (moves to Alper JCC in Miami Jan. 28-Feb. 1, Backstage at the Fillmore on Miami Beach Feb. 4-15, Kravis Center in West Palm Beach (Feb. 17-March 15).

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 1 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 4.

Cost: $45.

Information: 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com or www.browardcenter.org.

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