Playwright Rachel Shukert on the Second Coming of Moses!
With Spring come two important religious holidays: Easter and Passover. While gentiles like me have always been able to sing along to Jesus Christ Superstar during our holy week, I’m afraid my Jewish friends have gone too long without a musical following the story of Moses. (Fiddler on the Roof, while fantastic, is hardly comparable to JCS in this regard.) Luckily, the folks at Tablet magazine are presenting the second staging of Everything’s Coming Up Moses!, an unlikely mash-up of one of the greatest stories ever told with one of the most important and recognizable American musicals (Gypsy).
Starring Seth Rudetsky (of Broadway Catterbox fame) as Moses, Matt Cavenaugh (recently seen as Tony in West Side Story) as Pharaoh, and Bob Morris (author of Assisted Living and a former New York Times columnist) as God, the musical also features downtown artist Dan Fishback and author Rachel Shukert, who conceived the production last year. Shukert spoke to Fourth Wall via email about the show, its snappy title, the target audience, and the divine qualities of Stephen Sondheim.
Fourth Wall: How did you come up with the concept for the show?
Rachel Shukert: My friend Michael Schulman and I were IM’ing on Facebook, as one does to escape the crushing tediousness of the workday, and we were talking about his parents’ seder, which I was going to, and then one or the other of us typed “Everything’s Coming Up Moses!” That stuck in my head, and in this fit of mania, I wrote the lyrics to two songs — that one and “Some People,” which became “Some Hebrews.” I forwarded them around to some friend I thought would think they were funny (i.e. gay, Jewish, theater types) and my friend Jesse Oxfeld was like, “If you want to do a whole show of this, I will see that it’s produced.” So that’s what I did! It really came together very fast — it’s so rare that something has that smooth a journey from my head to the page. Maybe God is a big Sondheim fan (I mean, obviously, God is a big Sondheim fan.)
FW: This is the second annual performance of Everything’s Coming Up Moses! Did you expect the show to be a hit last year?
RS: I expected it to go over well with the sort of Venn diagram of audience members we had assembled (again: gays, Jews, Broadway aficionados, people’s parents) but it really kind of defied expectation as to how people responded. I mean, straight dudes with beards were into it. We took my mother to Marie’s Crisis afterwards. It was like a dream.
FW: Does the audience need to know both the stories of Passover and Gypsy to enjoy the show? Will I, an Episcopalian who watched the Bette Midler version on TV fifteen years ago, get the jokes?
RS: Yeah, it works a few levels, I think. Obviously, like anything parodic, the better you know the source material, the deeper the jokes are. But the reason I think it works so well is that both the story/music of Gypsy and the story of Exodus are so ingrained in the culture that you kind of can’t help but know them, even if you don’t realize it. Don’t Episcopalians have Moses? I know he’s not quite as big of a deal for you guys, but it can’t just be Jews buying the new limited edition remastered Blu-ray version of The Ten Commandments that comes in a collectible box that simulates the holographic parting of the Red Sea.
FW: Seth Rudetsky is known more for his Broadway commentary. How did you convince him to play Moses?
RS: Um…he gets to play Mama Rose. It’s like asking a straight guy if he wants to be Han Solo. Seriously though, Seth is a genius and we are so lucky to have him. I would even say that the show was contingent upon his participation.
FW: If Stephen Sondheim were to communicate with you through a burning bush, what do you hope he would say?
RS: “Don’t worry, I’m not going to sue you.”
FW: Who’s your favorite Mama Rose? Who’s your favorite Moses?
RS: Charlton Heston for both! Just kidding. Charlton Heston for Moses. And I’m pretty partial to Patti LuPone…except for Bernadette [Peters], who I wasn’t nuts about, the others were all kind of before my time. I do kind of like Rosalind Russell in the movie; she’s so tall and gawky, which I always thought was interesting.
FW: Have you considered parodying other classic musicals for Jewish holidays? What show would parallel Yom Kippur? Rosh Hashanah? Sukkot?
RS: Yes. I’ve actually been working on Purim Evita, or as it should be called: “Don’t Cry For Me, Achashverosh.” Hanukkah is Les Mis, Yom Kippur is Cabaret. I very seriously outlined “Oklahoma/Yom HaShoah” (Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day), but they didn’t go for it. I can’t imagine why.
Everything’s Coming Up Moses! plays at 92Y Tribeca on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 7:30. Advance tickets are $20, and can be purchased at 92Y Tribeca’s website.