You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews at the St James’ Theatre
Not as much a walk down memory lane as it is a high-octane sprint through the history of musical theatre on Broadway, You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews focuses on the staggering number of Jewish contributors behind some of the most iconic shows of all time. If this sounds like more of a lecture than a performance then it is testament to the cast that it takes a long while before this laboured theme becomes wearisome. It is fascinating to learn about the cultural development of Broadway’s musicals and the huge predominance of Jewish composers and writers that drove them, but the show goes too far and crosses the line from musical theatre into musical PowerPoint presentation.
The gripping opening introduces the audience, through projected animation, to the influx of Jewish immigrants into New York and the effect that this cultural burst had on an embryonic Broadway. Instantly the cast flood the stage and give dazzlingly talented performances of iconic songs from 1930s epochal musicals. The soil is now well sown for some quality musical theatre to germinate, and the audience are on tenterhooks, eager to see where the show will go.
The animated screen returns and we learn more about the development of Broadway in the 40s with some fine examples of songs from this era. Then the 50s period is explored in the same manner and it is not long before people start to think to themselves: “Hang on, I think I know where this show is going.” Two hours, five decades and 26 different musicals later, they are proved accurate. The result is a kaleidoscope experience that provides momentary glimpses into a myriad of fascinating scenes but is too disparate to allow anyone to engage and invest sustainably. Consequently, performances of songs written to be heart-wrenching, such as Les Miserables’ I Dreamed a Dream, lose practically all their emotional weight in the absence of any build-up and simply serve as disjointed references that musical theatre fans can admire nostalgically.
In all other aspects the production is faultless: the multi-talented cast perform exquisitely, the superb choreography is delivered with pinpoint accuracy, the costumes are evocative, even the lighting guy operates with a certain panache. It is just annoying that there isn’t more substance to hang all this wonderful talent from. Towards the end the show becomes very self-indulgent, less a celebration of Jewish contribution to Broadway and more a celebration of itself. It’s very much aimed at enthusiasts of the genre, revelling in its past and looking to its future in the digital age, reassuring a diminishing fan base that “as long as you have Jews, you will have musicals”.
You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews is on at the St James’ Theatre from 25th August until 5th September, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews here: