Daniel Cainer returns to SoHo Playhouse with a limited engagement of Jewish Chronicles...A Christmas Special! I had the pleasure of asking him a few questions about the show and bagels!
What inspired you to create Jewish Chronicles...A Christmas Special?
I’ve always been a topical songwriter. In fact I used to write and broadcast a weekly song about the news on radio and tv in the UK. I turned this talent to the topic of my family and the rediscovery of my culture whilst at the same time giving myself the permission to write in a longer form and give the songs a strong narrative. Each ‘chronicle’ is like a mini-play (I like to think). And this all happened after having a bit of a ‘mid-life crisis’ – yes, a bit of a cliché I know – a combination of a divorce, subsequent therapy and (trumpet fanfare) an actual ‘calling’. Between you and me (and everybody else) I had a sort of ‘vision’: an old rabbi in full orthodox garb, as if straight out of central casting and eastern Europe at the same time gave me a very specific instruction to write ‘Jewish music’. I really didn’t know what he meant. But now I do, because that’s what I did. And still do.
Meanwhile the title ’Jewish Chronicles’ came about because it is a play on the title of the most well-known Jewish newspaper in the UK: The Jewish Chronicle. So, if you know that, then you might think it was almost clever to call a collection of musical Jewish- flavoured family stories ‘Jewish Chronicles’. But if you don’t, you might think it’s some kind of worthy, religious study-class… which it really isn’t!
The show had a few incarnations, did you change it from the last time?
It is always evolving. I write new material and new stories and mix them in with the older ones. And I bring others back out of retirement. This incarnation has quite a lot new in it. Although, to be honest, I can’t remember exactly what was in the previous incarnation. I get lots of people who keep coming back, quite possibly because they can’t remember either.
How do you choose the stories in the show?
Some I like more than others at any given time. I also need to make sure that each song has its place in the overall narrative arc of the show. And there is the appropriate balance of comedy and thoughtfulness. And up and down-tempo etc. And that the choices are appropriate for the political atmosphere. Right now, there are difficult and troubling things happening and I do need to address them, sometimes obliquely, sometimes directly.
Has your family seen the show? If so, have they given you any feedback?
Yes – those that are still with us! My dad, who passed away quite recently even had a cameo role for a while. He would get up out of the audience as if to complain about something and then sing the final verse to the last song which he himself had written. In fact it was all his idea. My mum was not so keen. But she is housebound now and many of the other family members I mention can only observe from the fifth dimension. Or is it the fourth?
Lastly, what is your favorite topping/s for a bagel?
Well, I’m a lifelong vegetarian (but not vegan) so I’m a fan of the classic cream cheese. Or egg and onion. But don’t tell my cardiologist. I’m also quite possibly the only Jew you will encounter who has never eaten chicken soup. Make of that what you will.
Jewish Chronicles... Christmas Special! plays until December 23 at SoHo Playhouse.
"Jewish Chronicles... Christmas Special!"
Written and Performed by Daniel Cainer
December 13- December 23
SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St. NYC)
Yani Perez, M.F.A, is a poet, playwright, translator, and educator. Her plays have been presented in various theaters in the United States such as La Mama and Yale University as well as internationally in Bogotá, Colombia. She works at IATI Theater, one of the oldest Latinx theaters in NYC. She is currently working on translations of Latinx artists in hopes of introducing them to English-speaking audiences.