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Celebrate Jewish stories at these Broadway shows

Shows about Jewish icons and by Jewish artists abound on the New York stage this season — learn more about all the plays and musicals to support right now.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

It’s impossible to overstate Jewish artists' contributions to arts and entertainment history. Fanny Brice paved the way for comediennes in the Ziegfeld Follies, Oscar Levant changed the face of live television (amid his illustrious music career), and the globally renowned Tom Stoppard has earned more Tony Awards than any other playwright.

It’s a joy to see these stories and many more, about and by Jewish artists, represented on the Broadway stage this season. In one show, a young man’s given name eventually makes him one of the most recognizable icons in music. Another captures the love between a pair of parents and their grown son. Sobering stories abound as well, including a timely musical revival based on American historical events.

Recurring themes like assimilation and prejudice run through some of these productions, but so do triumph and pride. Audiences of any background can and should celebrate and support these productions centering on Jewish stories.

Get tickets to a Broadway show on New York Theatre Guide.

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British playwright Tom Stoppard’s award-winning, semi-autobiographical drama traces multiple generations of a Viennese Jewish family over 50 years, beginning in 1899. The plot doesn’t mirror his life, but Stoppard draws inspiration from his own experience. In his 50s, he discovered he was Jewish, and many of his family members died in the Holocaust. One of the play’s most stunning moments is when one character, Stoppard’s stand-in, learns the same life-changing truth. New York Theatre Guide’s five-star review calls the play “a masterful, memorable family portrait.”

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Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s heart-stirring 1998 musical Parade, now on Broadway in a revival that earned five stars from New York Theatre Guide, draws from true events that still shock 110 years later. In Marietta, Georgia, in 1913, 29-year-old Leo Frank (Ben Platt), a Jewish pencil factory supervisor, was wrongfully charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for murder. Blatant anti-Semitism, which remains all too topical, helped fuel events leading to Frank’s eventual lynching.

In the script and songs, Leo stands proudly in his identity. Asked by his wife, Lucille (Micaela Diamond), who is also Jewish, why he uses words like “meshuggeneh,” his response is instant and matter-of-fact. “Because they’re Jewish words,” he says, “and I’m Jewish.”

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A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical

How did Neil Diamond, a struggling Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter from a Jewish family, become the superstar behind 39 albums and hits like “Sweet Caroline,” “America,” “Shiloh,” “Song Song Blue,” and “A Beautiful Noise”? Or, in other words, how did he become the Jewish Elvis, as Diamond was known? This musical, with songs from the Diamond catalog and a script by Anthony McCarten, provides the answer – and reveals that superstardom doesn’t equal happiness.

Will Swenson and Mark Jacoby play the performer at various ages. In a memorable moment, a producer who guides young Neil to his big break tells this “Nice-Jewish-Boy” (her term) not to change his name to Noah Kaminsky and instead keep his given one. He heeds her advice. The rest is Diamond-studded history.

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Funny Girl

Based on the life of Jewish comic Fanny Brice, the musical follows Brice’s rise from humble Lower East Side roots to Ziegfeld Follies stardom and a doomed marriage to gambler Nick Arnstein. Lea Michele now plays the role originated by Barbra Streisand in 1964, showing a new generation of audiences how Brice, who didn’t fit then-conventional beauty standards, defied the odds with her singular talent to succeed.

Brice’s direct reference to being Jewish emerges in “You Are Woman, I Am Man” a song in which Fanny and Nick confirm their love is mutual. But she wonders about the repercussions of indulging her feelings, singing, “Would a convent take a Jewish girl?” In the end, desire wins – no joke.

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Good Night, Oscar

In this new Broadway play starring Emmy winner Sean Hayes, Tony and Pulitzer winner Doug Wright mines the life of pianist and author Oscar Levant. Born in Pittsburgh to Orthodox Jewish parents, Levant became a sensation when he appeared on Tonight Starring Jack Paar in 1958. His openness about taboo issues made him the talk of the town.

Levant, a close friend of George Gershwin, composed, performed, and conducted on Broadway. Levant eventually stopped appearing as a guest on his show, and Paar often signed off with, “Good night, Oscar Levant, wherever you are.” It was a play title waiting to happen.

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The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac and Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan star in Lorraine Hansberry’s play about a married couple living in Greenwich Village in the late 1960s. Sidney is a Jewish idealist and an intellectual whose marriage disintegrates as he supports a local political campaign.

Hansberry tackles many themes, including casual anti-Semitism, particularly between Sidney and his sister-in-law, Mavis. His firm romantic and political convictions may get him into trouble, but his unwillingness to deny his heritage shows the positive side of his character.

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Just For Us

Alex Edelman is a comedian and writer whose Orthodox Jewish upbringing informs his work, including this solo show that’s appeared at three Off-Broadway theatres since 2021 and leaps to Broadway in June. Edelman’s one-man work covers recollections from his Jewish family and, centrally, how he crashes a white supremacist meeting in Queens after they target him online.

You don’t have to be Jewish to recognize the perils of being othered. In an interview with New York Theatre Guide, Edelman expressed delight that the show speaks broadly. “I’m really thrilled to see that it's not just Jewish audiences,” he said.

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Pictures From Home

In the 1980s, Brooklyn-born Jewish photographer Larry Sultan (Danny Burstein) began a decade-long project interviewing and snapping pictures of his aging parents, Irving (Nathan Lane) and Jean (Zoë Wanamaker), in their California home. He turned that material into the book Pictures From Home, the basis for Sharr White’s touching yet funny play.

Larry says he’s trying to “see beyond the frame” to know his mom and dad better. Hard realities emerge. Larry’s dad changed his name to John Sutton to keep his job at an English clothing store. “Irving Sultan was a Jew, but John Sutton wasn’t,” says Irving. “The stuff I’d hear people say about Jews was hard to believe and even harder to take … I had a wife and two kids. So I had to accept their stupidity.”

In sharing even these low points, though, Larry honors the fullness of his parents’ lives and immortalizes their memory. This theme of familial love makes Pictures From Home universally moving.

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