By Holli Harms

Ari Axelrod’s show, A Place for Us: A Celebration of Jewish Broadway, is billed as a performance that spotlights Jewish cultural influences on the songs of Broadway composers, focusing specifically on that link. I went because I love musicals, love the musicals of the past, love the songs featured in the evening, and couldn’t wait to celebrate the remarkably gifted magical composers and their beloved creations.

Ari opened with a beautiful instrumental version of the Israeli National anthem, and the woman at the table next to me stood in respect and honor. Then he launched into Jason Robert Brown’s incomparable song “Hope” as the pain currently roiling in the Middle East could not be ignored. It was the perfect song for this moment in time. It is a stunning song and reminded me of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Ari set the tone for the evening promising it to be uplifting and joyful and also letting us know there would be moments of sadness, of truthful pain.

What I thought would be an evening of celebration through music became weighted down by current events that drove the presentation off the road and onto the berm of nationalism. It was a  solemn evening of what could have been a full-blown cultural celebration of song, with a guest appearance by singer Ben Fankhauser that added spark to the evening. I came for the incredible music, and it was there, but under a blanket.

Ari’s rendition of Boubil and Schonberg’s “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, and Brown’s “This Is Not Over Yet” from Parade were lovely to hear and I came away with a new understanding of their connection to Jewish music and culture, but it was undermined by that other voice that brought unwanted discomfort not only to myself, but to others around me as well. One member of the audience, respectfully but sternly, called out in the middle of Ari’s banter, “stop please”reminding him that the truth and importance of community, which is so integral to Jewish culture, is a human need and that there is suffering in all parts of the world, inflicted by and upon many many peoples. Ari respectfully agreed and was very open to the shout-out. He was not stumped by it and moved on with grace to the final songs of the evening.

The wonderful songs of some of our greatest composers were almost softened, but for me, they shown through on their own with an inner personal flame.

Music director and arranger Mike Stapleton on piano, Nathan See on flute and clarinet, Alon Bisk on cello, Randy Landau on bass, and Barbara Merjan on drums.

Ari will be performing again this Monday, October 30th at Chelsea Table + Stage. Tickets and information for that performance can be found HERE

CHELSEA TABLE + STAGE is located at 152 West 26th Street. Tickets are $20-$50, in addition to a service charge and a two-item food and beverage minimum. Note that there is not a bad seat in the house, the shows are all top notch as are the drinks and food.