A story about a boy and his grandfather, the musical starts off with a full cast ensemble that introduces the boy’s family and neighbors. The orchestra is quaintly hidden at the top of the platform above the apartment buildings. The set mesmerizes as it rotates from the exterior of a building to reveal a staircase then an interior of a living room. It also takes a section cut of the apartment to reveal the first and second floor, figuratively representing the layers of the family. The grays and browns in the set effectively set a grim mood.
The story is told through the eyes of older David (Joe Pararella) about his heart-warming relationship with his beloved Zaida, or grandfather (Chuck Karel). Young David (Alex Dreier) begs Zaida to take him on one of those magical journeys to various countries as they always do on a wagon with Zaida’s horse (the audience would have to use their imagination). All the other songs don’t stick, but this scene has song with a sticky line: “We’ve got magic wings, fly fly!” David grew up in a working class Jewish family where his mother Annie (Russell Arden Koplin) is expecting a child and his father Harry (Jonathan Raviv) does not work but comes up with impulsive business ideas. The worst part is when Harry’s plan has a flaw, he ignores it and continues to get Annie’s brother Benny to invest in his business. Needless to say, it fails and they are bankrupt.
Zaida; an old man on a wagon who resembles Santa Claus, he is a fun-loving, kind, forgiving, grandfather that everyone wished they had, and in general was the only figure in Young David’s life that made his childhood more bearable. Zaida’s traditions and smelly horse create tensions with his neighbor Mrs. Tanner (Renee Bang Allen) and Harry, a guy who thinks he’s a man of the future. Zaida is the only thing that seems to hold the family together. He’s the family’s financial supporter; Harry goes to him to try to squeeze money from him, his daughter Annie and family still lives with him, and he’s Young David’s heart and soul.
Most of the musical builds up the relationship of Zaida and Young David amidst family financial troubles and neighborhood arguments. Very close to the beginning, the musical already forebodes that there is a solemn ending. The middle builds this up and the rest of the story ends abruptly without much closure after Zaida gets sick.
Lies My Father Told Me paints a solemn picture of a family struggling to make it big in a new country, and a boy who has to bear living with a father who doesn’t have his act together. Harry is convincingly despicable, from his hustling to gambling. Annie’s character is pretty passive until we see a hint of more complexity in the end when she does a heart-wrenching solo about her failed marriage.
The comedic moments sprinkled in scenes don’t quite lighten the tone. Older David doesn’t reveal his future, simply a retelling of a sad past. We don’t know what eventually happens to him, but hope for the best.
Lies My Father Told Me-Based on the works of Ted Allan; adapted and directed by Bryna Wasserman; music, lyrics, and orchestrations by Elan Kunin
WITH: Renee Bang Allen (Mrs. Tanner), Ashley Brooke (Cleo), Jeremiah Burch (Danny), Alex Dreier (Young David), Jonathan Hadley (Benny), Chuck Karel (Zaida), Russell Arden Koplin (Annie), Leisa Mather (Edna), Joe Paparella (Older David), Jonathan Raviv (Harry), Gordon Stanley (Mr. Baumgarten/Proprietor), Eva Amesse (Ensemble/Dance Captain), Holden Droege (U/S Young David), Chris Karl (Ensemble), Tina Mancini (Ensemble), Max Nussbaum (Ensemble), David Rosenberg (Ensemble), Siria Rutstein (Ensemble).
Music direction and conducted by Michael Larsen; Music supervision, Zalmen Mlotek; Choreography, Merete Muenter.
Set designed by John C. Dinning; costume design, Izzy Fields; lighting design, Natalie Robin, sound design, Benjamin Furiga; casting director, Jamibeth Margolis, press representative, Bruce Cohen; production stage manager, Marci Skolnick; production manager, Ken Larson; supervising producer, Christopher Massimine.
Presented by The National Yiddish Theater—Folksbiene. At Baruch Performing Arts Center, Nagelberg Theater, 55 Lexington Avenue (enter 25th Street), Manhattan; (646) 312-5073, www.nationalyiddishtheater.org, $60 orchestra, $50 balcony, Through Dec. 15, Runtime: 2 hours with 1 intermission.