There are a lot of problems facing the cast and crew of the new off-off-off Broadway production of Aaron Goldfarb’s Bar Mitzvah taking place at Temple Beth Shalom in Teaneck, New Jersey, including — but not limited to — a lackluster leading man, an unbelievable supporting cast and a cheesy score.
The show, in its extremely limited run of last Saturday only, features a dysfunctional cast of family members teetering on, dare I say, anti-Semitic caricature, and a derivative soundtrack indistinguishable from past bar mitzvah productions. (Do we really need to hear KC and Jojo’s “All My Life” again?)
Director Susan Goldfarb, mother of the titular character, is done no favors by Bar Mitzvah’s plot, which features illogical mishaps tantamount to an episode of Three’s Company: “The caterers forgot the cake!” “Cousin Sharona’s nylon rips are showing in the pictures!” “Uncle Gabe isn’t here yet and he’s supposed to do a Torah blessing!”
As if that weren’t enough, Mr. Goldfarb, 13, fails to deliver as the show’s lead. His puberty-ridden voice is scratchy, high-pitched and (sometimes charmingly) raw on the opening blessings, but soon grows grating in the longer haftorah chanting. He also lacks the swagger and confidence needed to shoulder a production of this magnitude and at times, he is completely overshadowed by his pushy parents. Whose bar mitzvah is this really?
Aaron Goldfarb’s Bar Mitzvah is done another disservice by the show’s inconsistent score curated by DJ Harold Goldfarb, Aaron’s bumbling father. It’s impossible to tell whether the show is meant to be a rock opera (with such fare as “We Will Rock You” and “We Are Family”) or a traditional musical. If the latter, the choreographer’s blatant theft from favorites like the YMCA and the Electric Slide comes across as lazy and unfinished. Yes, everyone can move and shuffle in a haphazard line, but no one in this production is a gifted dancer.
The character of Uncle Reuben, who needlessly reminded the audience of his divorce every ten seconds in a show of lazy, repetitive writing, drank too much during the party scene and slurred the rest of his lines. If this show wants to go on, the director should recast that role immediately.
The only redemptive quality of this otherwise banal affair, is Mr. Goldfarb’s grandmother, played by Esther Himmelstein-Goldfarb. In the fine comedic tradition of Misters Bean and Magoo, Mrs. Himmelstein-Goldfarb stole the show during the candle-lighting ceremony scene when she lit one of the paper mache race cars on fire and pretended not to notice until the rabbi had put it out with a glass of Manischewitz. Anytime her character seems too cartoonish, she manages to ground the performance in a guilt-ridden speech about surviving the Holocaust. In one memorable scene, she licks her thumb and wipes a non-existent smudge from the young Mr. Goldfarb’s cheek in front of a group of giggling popular girls.
This 93-year-old firecracker is the only shining light in a production that suffers at the hands of its weak lead, director, composer and choreographer. Leaving Aaron Goldfarb’s Bar Mitzvah, I thought: “Today, I am a man…who has just wasted three hours of his life.”
Aaron Goldfarb’s Bar Mitzvah is a miss.