Aron Gonshor knows that it’s the light of camaraderie that gives the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre’s (DWYT) annual Chanukah sing-along, Lyrics and Latkes, its real appeal.
“Every time we do this, people ask if we could have one every month. They’re starved, not just for the Yiddish language, but people are so alienated in modern life. The ability to be part of a social group is becoming harder and harder,” says Gonshor, a veteran DWYT member and its past co-chair, along with Edit Kuper.
The event, whose fifth edition will start at 2 p.m. on Dec. 17 (the fifth day of Chanukah) and include a subsequent 7 p.m. performance (the holiday’s sixth night), fulfils the need to participate within the warmth of a group, not only entertaining those who attend, but involving them. Audiences in the intimate Segal Centre Studio will envelop three of the four sides of the stage, where a six-man band and 15 singers will lead the proceedings in solos and duets and, at times, the full sound of choral unity.
The songs that pour forth will be familiar and dear, such as the lullaby-like Oh Ihr Kleine Lichtelech, which embraces the audience along with the glow of the candles, lit with prayers at the start of the concert.
Happy Chanukahs past will surely be rekindled with the upbeat Ladino favourite Ocho Kandelikas, which requires a rousing chorus from the audience. Other tunes, like the traditional campfire song Arum Dem Fayer and DWYT favourite show tunes from A Shtetl Wedding, for example, are guaranteed to evoke more memories.
“We’re singing not at the people, but with the people, and it makes for a tremendous amount of fun,” says Gonshor, who is joined by the vocal talents of such DWYT favourites as Mikey Samra, portrayer of the frantic co-plotter in The Producers and the misunderstood suitor in It Shoulda Been You.
As with DWYT plays, the sing-along’s Yiddish will be translated in surtitles above the stage so that non-speakers may understand, but also transliterated so that the audience can sing the songs in their original language. Mood-enhancing projections will complete the effect, and latkes will be served afterward.
“You get young and old in the audience, including my mother, who is 99,” says Gonshor. “She wouldn’t miss it.”
Gonshor’s mother began sending him to sing and act under Dora Wasserman’s tutelage when he was just a child, and he never left. The actor-singer-musician, who will be playing guitar in the Lyrics and Latkes band alongside his son Ben on bass, has delighted theatregoers through the years with his performances, not the least of which was Di Komedyantn (The Sunshine Boys).
Lyrics and Latkes follows on the heels of the DWYT’s A Century Songbook, which wove together the songs and stories of Jewish Montreal to honour the centennial anniversary of Federation CJA.
The DWYT will celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday in the spring with the concert-cum-pageant If You Will It, It Is Not A Dream. A film series and Holocaust concert are also forthcoming.
Though budgetary considerations have scaled back the DWYT season from its traditionally large theatrical productions, continuity is ensured. “The nice thing is a lot of young people have come on board,” says Gonshor. “Our new board has a whole group of them with that same passion, vision and spirit. It makes our hearts full to know that whatever foundation we have been able to create is now bearing fruit.”
The new faces have been drawn, in part, by the bonding that the late Dora Wasserman instilled in the group from the moment of its founding in 1958.
“It’s going to be a very heimish, freewheeling evening,” says Gonshor. “We’re all going to sing together, make music together and laugh together, and from that can only come good things.” n
For tickets, call 514-739-7944 or go to segalcentre.org.