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December 13, 2022

Plays & Musicals About the Jewish Experience


Jewish theatre in the United States began as a way for Jewish artists to express themselves while simultaneously preserving the culture of the Eastern European shtetl. These early works were often written and performed in the Yiddish language. As time progressed, Yiddish theatre began to fade in popularity and a more American sound began to emerge in Jewish theatre. Concord Theatricals proudly represents an array of titles that uplift Jewish voices from every time period.

We’ve compiled a list of plays and musicals centered around the Jewish experience. Whether you’re looking to read or produce them, these shows each shine a light on a unique aspect of Jewish culture, tradition and history. Leaf through this list to learn more!

Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 2m)
The night after their grandfather’s funeral, three cousins engage in a verbal (and sometimes physical) battle. In one corner is Daphna Feygenbaum, a “Real Jew” who is volatile, self-assured and unbending. In the other is her equally stubborn cousin Liam, a secular and entitled young man, who has his shiksa girlfriend, Melody, in tow. Stuck in the middle is Liam’s brother, Jonah, who tries to stay out of the fray.

Brighton Beach Memoirs (US/UK), Biloxi Blues (US/UK) & Broadway Bound (US/UK) by Neil Simon
(Full-Length Plays, Dramatic Comedy)
Together, these three plays make up Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy of acclaimed dramatic comedies. Ranging from 6-8 characters, the plays follow Eugene (Simon’s stand-in for himself) through various stages of life. The first play highlights his adolescence and family life in a Jewish household, the second illuminates his experience of WWII, and the third chronicles the author’s attempt to break into the world of show business.

Bring Back My Bonny to Me by Noa Gottlieb (US)
(Short Play, Drama / 4f)
This short play explores the relationship between religion and sexuality. A mother-daughter relationship is put to the test as a young Jewish girl reveals to her mother that she is a lesbian.

Cantorial by Ira Levin (US)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2f, 4m)
In this melodic comedy, the disembodied voice of a Hebraic cantor convinces a skeptic to think more deeply about Judaism. A couple – Warren and Lesley – move into a renovated condo that was formerly a synagogue. Everything seems perfect… until they begin to hear mysterious Hebrew singing. After failing to get rid of the voice, Warren becomes entranced, even learning Yiddish to try to connect with the spirit. With levity and wit, Levin’s Jewish ghost story makes for a diverting theatrical page-turner.

Conversations with My Father by Herb Gardner (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 9m, 2 boys)
From the award-winning author of I’m Not Rappaport and A Thousand Clowns comes a powerful and funny play about three generations of a Jewish family on the Lower East Side. Incorporating autobiographical elements, this Pulitzer Prize-winning story dramatizes what it’s like to melt as well as simmer in American society while exploring the universality of the father-son relationship.

Crossing Jerusalem by Julia Pascal (US)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f, 3m)
Crossing Jerusalem takes place over the course of 24 hours. This is the story of an Israeli family in March 2002, as they cross Jerusalem at the beginning of the latest intifada. As tensions heighten, drama breaks out among the family.

Falsettos by William Finn and James Lapine (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 3f, 3m, 1 boy)
Hilarious, heartbreaking and utterly unique, Falsettos is a contemporary musical about family, relationships, bar mitvahs, baseball and AIDS. When Marvin leaves his wife Trina and son Jason to be with his lover Whizzer, tempers flare, problems escalate and everyone learns to grow up.

Funny Girl by Jule Styne, Bob Merrill and Isobel Lennart (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 3f, 3m)
This ebullient musical follows the life of iconic Jewish performer Fanny Brice. Always underestimated, Fanny defies expectation and rises to fame. From family life to romance to the entertainment world, viewers get an inside look at Fanny’s meteoric rise to stardom. With an exhilarating score, this show is a guaranteed good time!

Hanukkah Holiday by Rosalind Friedman (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 1f, 1m, 10 any gender)
Hanukkah Holiday features nine original songs that tell the exciting, touching, and timeless story of Hanukkah. While a teacher is relating the story to the children in her classroom, a student named Judah scoffs at the tale. Left alone to study and write a report, Little Judah is visited by a costumed Judah Macabee, who relates his deeds and sacrifices. This hero helps the past come alive, and Little Judah’s report is praised.

Jewish Girlz by Elizabeth Swados (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 14f)
During a weekend retreat sponsored by two female rabbis, the atmosphere in a country log cabin evolves from shyness and contempt into a tell-all session among adolescent Jewish girls from all kinds of backgrounds. Stories and songs transcend stereotypes to find individuality, heart and humor and to touch on sensitive issues such as pressure, self-esteem and what it means to be a girl in modern society.

Kosher Lutherans by William Missouri Downs (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 2m)
Kosher Lutherans centers on Hanna and Frank
lyn, the seemingly perfect couple who desperately want to have a child of their own, but are unable to do so, at least not without the help of a God-fearing pregnant girl from Iowa who offers to let the couple adopt her out-of-wedlock baby. Just before the adoption papers are signed, Hanna and Franklyn discover the girl is unaware that they are Jewish. Knowing the revelation could throw a ratchet into the whole works, the couple poses as Lutherans to appeal to the girl’s apparent Midwestern sensibilities. But how far are they willing to go to have a family?

Kuni Leml by Richard Engquist, Nahma Sandrow and Raphael Crystal (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 6m)
This gem garnered the Outer Critics’ Circle awards for Best Book, Best Music, Best Lyrics and Best Off-Broadway Musical. A tale of young lovers defying tradition – in this case the arranged match of the young heroine to the ultimate schlemiel – Kuni Leml is a classic Yiddish farce. A family musical with universal appeal, it is bright, modern and easy to produce.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story by Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan and Christian Berry (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 1f, 2m)
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story
is a humorously dark folk tale woven together with a high-energy concert. This music/theatre hybrid, originally starring international Klezmer sensation Ben Caplan, is inspired by the true stories of Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908. It’s about how to love after being broken by the horrors of war. It’s about looking into the eyes of God.

Petticoat Lane by Judd Woldin (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 5m)
Freely adapted from Israel Zangwill’s delightful novella, Petticoat Lane takes place in the East End of London in the 18th century. The musical follows a young man with a working-class Ashkenazic heritage as he seeks to win the hand of a haughty Sephardic beggar’s daughter.

Prayer for the French Republic by Joshua Harmon (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 4f, 7m)
This multigenerational story follows a Jewish family over 70 years. The play begins with a couple in Paris, awaiting news of their missing family. Decades later, their great grandchildren are dealing with the same issues of safety and discrimination. Prayer for the French Republic is a sweeping look at history, home and the effects of an ancient hatred.

Rose Colored Glass by Sue Bigelow and Janice Goldberg (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f)
Set in 1938 Chicago, Rose Colored Glass takes place in the back rooms of Lady O’Riley’s pub and Rose Fleishman’s delicatessen. In a series of stunning flashbacks, Lady’s granddaughter remembers the moving story of how Lady and Rose formed a united front to fight American apathy in an attempt to bring Rose’s nephew out of Europe before the war. The show explores the beginning of the Holocaust from an American perspective, showing two remarkable women as they struggle with American apathy, immigration laws and bureaucracy, and their own prejudices… all in the name of one boy’s safe passage from Europe to America.

Stunning by David Adjmi (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 4f, 2m)
Lily is 16, married and living in a Sephardic Syrian-Jewish community in Brooklyn, in a city where most Jewish people are descended from Ashkenazi Europeans. With little exposure to the world beyond her community, she forms a bond with her Black maid, Blanche. Blanche changes Lily’s worldview, but at a price. Stunning explores the multicultural melting pot of America and the lives of the people within it.

Taller Than a Dwarf by Elaine May (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 5m)
Young Jewish couple Howard and Selma deal with the mundane stresses of a leaky shower and a citation for litter. Howard’s parents, mother-in-law and boss hilariously elevate his childish rebellion to Civil Disobedience worthy of Thoreau in this skewed comic version of an urban angst tale from veteran humorist Elaine May.

The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 4f, 1m)
Three Jewish widows meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands’ graves. Ida is sweet tempered and ready to begin a new life; Lucille is a feisty embodiment of the girl who just wants to have fun; and Doris is priggish and judgmental, particularly when Sam the butcher enters the scene. He meets the widows while visiting his wife’s grave.

The Lehman Trilogy by Stefano Massini and Ben Power (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3m)
Weaving together nearly two centuries of family history, this epic theatrical event charts the humble beginnings, outrageous successes and devastating failure of the financial institution that would ultimately bring the global economy to its knees.

The Lucky Star by Karen Hartman (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 5f, 4m)
The discovery of a stash of letters stamped with swastikas opens clues to an untold family history spanning multiple generations in The Lucky Star – the gripping true story of resilience and truth-tracking determination spanning Baltimore and beyond. Richard Hollander’s book Every Day Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence from Poland is brought to the stage in this mesmerizing new adaptation that restores a family’s uncharted legacy – celebrated by revelation and remembrance.

The Man-Child by Arnold Rabin (US)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 4f, 2m, 3 boys, 1 any gender)
This is the story of a boy’s coming of age as he anticipates the celebration of his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. After being given a
precious family heirloom in the form of a golden ring, Allen is taunted by his friends, who try to convince him that the ring is not pure gold. They pressure him into biting the ring to test if it’s real, which he does, damaging the ring – and then he lies to his family, claiming the ring was damaged by accident. As the hour of the Bar Mitzvah approaches, it becomes apparent that Allen cannot achieve manhood with the lie in his heart.

The Tenth Man by Paddy Chayefsky (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 1f, 12m)
This play tells the story of the unlikely meeting of strangers who come together at Temple meetings, all with different reasons for attending. One day, one of the men decides to bring his granddaughter who is in a trance, in the hopes that the minyan might save her. He believes she has been possessed by a dybbuk – a malicious spirit – and an exorcism is arranged by the rabbi. This 1959 work by one of the founders of television drama makes for a thrilling night out, complete with a shocking twist sure to thrill any audience.

For more plays and musicals about tradition and family, visit the Concord Theatricals website in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2022 Manhattan Theatre Club production of Prayer for the French Republic (Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade).