We’d like to thank the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia for including Evantine Design in the planning for The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater – a musical tribute and gala celebration here in Philadelphia! Selling out performance houses across the country since its premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2005, The Thomashefskys is a multi-media musical tribute to the inspirational life of Bessie and Boris Thomashefsky,founders of the American Yiddish Theater and grandparents of the musical genius, Michael Tilson Thomas. This incredible show will be performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra at The Kimmel Center on February 15th in tribute to Connie and Joe Smukler.
An eight-time Grammy Award winner, Michael Tilson Thomas was born in Los Angeles and is the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. His father, Ted Thomas, was a producer in the Mercury Theater Company in New York before moving to Los Angeles where he worked in films and television. His mother, Roberta Thomas, was the head of research for Columbia Pictures in Hollywood.
Along with four other performers, Tilson Thomas will share the stage with the Philadelphia Orchestra and will bring the original words and reconstructed story to life in authentic form. With the modern inclusion of musicial numbers set against salvaged film clips and archival photographs, posters and memorabilia, the tale of Yiddish Life in America is re-told with humor and passion.
Bessie and Boris emigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in the 1880s and, while still in their teens, began to play major roles in the development of American Yiddish theater. For Jewish immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th Century who settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Yiddish theater was central to their lives. It replaced touchstones of Eastern European life – the village marketplace, the temple, the rabbi – and provided a stage for the new ideas that were shaping the psychological, emotional, moral and educational transition to a new, American way of life. In The Thomashefskys, Michael Tilson Thomas serves as guide through the lives and repertoire of his grandparents. “My grandparents became mega-stars,” says Tilson Thomas, “and found themselves smack in the public eye. They were subject to adulation and relentless scrutiny. Legions of crazed fans were obsessed with every detail of their work and their lives. It was a far cry from the simple Jewish family life in the Ukrainian villages of their origins. In the old country, there was already an answer to every question. Now, in a new land of total freedom, new unimagined questions were waiting around every glittering corner. They wanted to use their theatre to explore these new questions and serve as a forum to search for possible answers. I marvel at what they attempted and how well they succeeded, from the classics to avant garde dramas, to original productions based on current events and contemporary Jewish life.”
The Thomashevskys became so popular that in 1939 the New York Times reported that 30,000 people lined the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan to attend Boris Thomashefsky’s funeral. Celebrated and remembered for what they gave the community then, and now, we encourage the Philadelphia community to share in their story.
Tickets for the performance are now on sale at The Kimmel Center. What a spectacular way to spend a cold February evening. Come on out!
[Images by Stefan Cohen, courtesy The Thomashefsky Project and Michael Tilson Thomas.]