Jake Ehrenreich is performing his acclaimed one-man show, “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn,” through Aug. 21 at Flushing’s Queens Theatre in the Park. A more accurate description than the play’s subtitle, “a heartwarming and hilarious true story of an American immigrant kid,” could scarcely be offered.
Running a tight 100 minutes without intermission, the show is a must-see for everyone. Fellow Jews will relate to the personal anecdotes Ehrenreich shares, while everyone else will likely be just as touched by the universality of these same stories. A versatile performer, Ehrenriech interweaves his monologues with songs and musical interludes.
In short, this is a show to cherish.
The set, which features the facade of a brick home and its front porch (on which a live band plays), is, according to Ehrenreich, a recreation of his childhood home in — where else? — Brooklyn.
Ehrenreich is not only an actor and singer, but also a playwright, director and composer, since he wrote the show, co-directed it with Jon Huberth and composed its nostalgic theme song. From the moment he sets foot on stage, sporting a Tilden High School sweatshirt and bouncing a pink Spalding handball, it’s clear that performer and audience alike are about to embark on a trip down memory lane. As a guide, Ehrenreich is relaxed and eager to please.
This American-born son of Holocaust survivors uses much of his stage time to relate his struggles to fit in while growing up in the 1960s.A huge fan of baseball and the burgeoning rock scene, young Jake was often frustrated that his Yiddish-speaking parents couldn’t relate to either.
Ehrenreich’stalents were obvious from an early age, and he found himself performing in a band in the Catskills, the upstate resort area where many entertainers got their start, at the age of 12. Television and Broadway eventually followed.
But this show, which Ehrenreich has been performing on tour since 2006, generally eschews show business memories in favor of funny, familiar and melancholic tales about his quirky family, including the illnesses which struck several loved ones. His family’s history, dominated by the shadow of the Holocaust like so many of that generation’s Jewish immigrants, helped shape the man Ehrenreich turned out to be. Joy and sorrow, he says, always go hand in hand.
Throughout the play, Ehrenreich incorporates video clips of his father, precious photographs of himself and his relatives and musical medleys of both rock classics and Yiddish favorites. During a tribute to the glory days of the Catskills, Ehrenreich sends up every emcee who ever entertained an audience in those mountains, underscoring how much times have, indeed, changed.
Ehrenreich makes a likable, engaging and unpredictable host.
By the end of the performance, his stories of love, loss, fear and hope will leave no one unmoved.
‘A Jew Grows in Brooklyn’
When: Thursday & Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 6 p.m. Through August 21.
Where: Queens Theatre in the Park in Flushing Meadows Park