Back for a return engagement this summer after a notably successful production last year, The Golden Bride is a revival of a Yiddish operetta that opened at the Second Avenue Theater in the East Village in 1923. Although it is presented with English subtitles flashed right above the stage, you’re not likely to look at them much because the performers here seek to re-activate this old chestnut with an outsized, mime-like performance style to match the material.
The Golden Bride is very much a museum piece, and so it feels appropriate that it should be staged in a theater adjacent to the Museum of Jewish Heritage down in Battery Park. There are times when this musical really does seem like a visitor from another world, and not just because of its Yiddish dialogue and lyrics. Operettas used to be hugely popular with a wide audience, but there aren’t many productions of musicals by Victor Herbert or Rudolf Friml anymore. The music in The Golden Bride, which was written by Joseph Rumshinsky, is often in the “oom-pah oom-pah” mode, though the main love song, “Mayn Goldele,” has such a catchy melody that you probably will be humming it on the way out and for days afterward.
The first act of The Golden Bride takes place in a shtetl in Russia, where the rich young Goldele (Rachel Policar) is much sought after by suitors. The second act is set in America, where all of the Russian characters have emigrated, and the comedy comes from how they are trying to assimilate to this new country at the beginning of the jazz age. Goldele’s favorite suitor is the handsome blond Misha (Cameron Johnson), who gets to sing “Mayn Goldele” and a song called “A Greeting from the New Russia” that outlines some hopes about what the country might become after the Russian Revolution of 1917. To which it can only be said now: Good luck with that hope, Misha.
Johnson has a commanding stage presence and a very piercing sort of singing voice that he hurls out at us rather recklessly, while Policar is ideal as the heroine, both sweet of face and soprano voice. Adam B. Shapiro gets the most laughs here as the larger-than-life Kalmen, who appears at one point in a tutu. The narrative resolves itself at a masked ball, and then a final sing-along with the audience of “Mayn Goldele.”
The Golden Bride is an artifact from another place and time and, as such, it should be treated gently. It is mainly of historical interest, a peek into a vanished era when many Jewish people from Russia were making their home in America. As a Yiddish operetta, it is twice removed from most of us in language and in musical style, and there are times when it feels like it is taking place on a wholly other planet from our own, but that planet does still retain some of its charm.