Monday, November 30, 2009

The Big Bubkis: A Complete Gentile's Guide to Jewish Vaudeville - Now Playing in New York

Shane Bertram Baker, unquestionably the biggest star in Yiddish vaudeville today, returns in his mega-hit sensation, The Big Bupkis! A Complete Gentile's Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville for the first open-run of a Yiddish-related show in twenty years.
When it was first performed, under a different name, "The Big Bupkis!" was the most talked-about, highly praised, successful and critically acclaimed Yiddish show in recent memory. The new and improved The Big Bupkis! performs twice a week, on Saturdays at 9pm and Sundays at 7pm, now in previews at 9pm, opening Saturday December 5 at 9pm, at The Workmen's Circle, 45 East 33rd Street, and running indefinitely until every last, living, breathing lover of theater on the planet has seen this show.

Co-conceived and directed by Allen Lewis Rickman, a battle-hardened veteran of Yiddish theater (but nowhere near as adored as Baker), "The Big Bupkis!" is an evening of cheap jokes, magic, ukulele music, hypnotism, unpleasant stories about Sophie Tucker, transvestitism, and a Yiddish bullfight poem, among other theatrical indignities. Giving nothing away, the show ends with Mr. Baker attempting to behead a volunteer from the audience.

Produced by the New Yiddish Rep, downtown's upstart Yiddish theater, The Big Bupkis! mixes English and Yiddish, with English supertitles projected over the stage. According to Artistic Director David Mandelbaum, who insists that this is not his great-grandmother's Yiddish theater, the Rep "is catering to the tastes, and cultural needs of a huge and underserved young audience for Yiddish."

Kansas City native Shane Bertram Baker, widely recognized as the leading matinée idol in the Yiddish vaudeville today, is acknowledged to be the first non-Jew (or Gentile) to ever get this far in that particular arena. How he became fluent in Yiddish; how he became a fixture in New York's booming Yiddish vaudeville community; how he became the executive director of the Congress for Jewish Culture (an esteemed Yiddish literary organization); and how he amassed credits as an actor, director, magician, and puppeteer of such accomplishment are all richly described and illustrated in this fascinating show.

Among his many credits: He assisted Tony-winning director Doug Hughes (currently "The Royal Family" and "Oleanna") on "The Grey Zone;" worked on Peter Sellers' Los Angeles Festival; has performed at P.S. 122, ShowWorld, and with Great Small Works (an anarchist puppet troupe), and played Carla the Gypsy Wildcat in The Ridiculous Theatrical Company's "Turds In Hell." As a child he was mentored in magic by vaudeville veteran H. Claude Enslow. He is also an authority on the plays of Henry Fielding and an early contributor to the current burlesque revival.

Mr. Baker will be accompanied by the legendary Steve Sterner. A veteran Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Yiddish theater performer, Mr. Sterner is best-known for accompanying and composing music for over 300 silent films, at MoMA, BAM, the Museum of the Moving Image, and Film Forum, where he is house pianist. As an accompanist, he has played with Robert Merrill, Jerry Vale, Joan Collins, and JoAnne Woodward, among many others.

Co-conceiver and director Allen Lewis Rickman's Yiddish credits include adapting and directing "The Lady Next Door" and "A Novel Romance," and co-adapting, directing, and acting in the Drama Desk-nominated Yiddish version of "Pirates of Penzance," as well as performing with Lillian Lux, the late Bruce Adler and the Joseph Papp Yiddish Theater. He can be seen acting in Yiddish onscreen in the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man" (currently in release) and onstage in his play "The Essence: A Yiddish Theater Dim Sum" (in produced by New Yiddish Rep and due next year in an anthology edited by Harvey Pekar).

"The Big Bupkis!" performs at the New Yiddish Rep's permanent home at the Workmen's Circle building, 45 East 33rd Street. Performances are Saturdays at 9pm and Sundays at 7pm. Previews are going on now, and the opening is Saturday December 5 at 9pm. Tickets are $25, and a student discount is available. For tickets and more information visit

In the video clip below, Here, Shane Baker reminisces about meeting Arthur Tracy, the Street Singer, at the Yiddish Artists and Friends Actors' Club, then presents a bit of "tidy tearing" while reciting a Yiddish version of Tracy's hit Trees. Trees was written by Joyce Kilmer, the Yiddish is by Mates Olitsky. Steve Sterner accompanies with Oscar Rasbach's musical setting.

In this second video, Shane Baker hypnotizes Mendel, the rubber chicken
(Hat tip to Anonymous, who commented on this post December 17.)


  1. This is interesting, but probably not the humorous part of the show. The other youtube link where he hypnotizes a rubber chicken is pretty funny.

  2. I recommend the show – just saw it at the Workmen's Circle and it's great!

  3. Went to try to catch it but it closed at the end of December.