Old Stock – A Refugee Love Story is a Jewish musical along the same lines as Fidlder on the Roof, but here’s the difference. It has a happy ending. The problem is that its run at Wiltons’ Music Hall, the unique playhouse close by Tower Hill station, is only until next Saturday (28 September) which is a great pity. Otherwise you might catch it in Mexico and Canada.
The other difference is that the storyline is completely true, telling the tale of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Montreal in 1908. Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s klezmer backed evening is the tale of her great-grandparents, who were Jewish refugees fleeing religious persecution in Romania.
Our travel editor Malcolm Ginsberg has been to see the show.
Star of the musical, and dominating the whole evening is Ben Caplan as The Wanderer. He also fashioned the show with Moscovitch and the director and songwriter, Christian Barry. Caplan, complete with grotesque (real) beard, and from time to time a tallit, is totally eccentric, quite happy with four-letter words, and equally at home as a fine cantor and a one-man boy band.
The evening opens at the start of the 20th century with Chaim 19 (Eric da Costa) and Chaya 24 (Mary Fay Coady) both off the boats and not happy souls. Having lost his family in the heimland Chaim’s plan is to get married and progress. He has looked around and is satisfied that Chaya is for him. She is not so sure, both husband and baby perishing in a pogrom. She thinks she might want to return to Eastern Europe. Her off-stage mother says they are a good match and we are told dies at some point. Chaya cannot then leave her mother. Canada is her home and she has a new spouse.
The ensemble is sweet. Coady’s Chaya plays violin, Da Costa’s Chaim, woodwind, and they’re backed by just two musicians, Jeff Kingsbury (percussion) and Kelsey McNulty (keyboard, accordion). The romantic sketches shift from comedic to tragic. Somehow they stick together with Sam, their first borne nearly dying of typhus, but battling through. They were to have three more. And they multiplied. By the fourth generation there were 84 descendants, with Chaim living to 91 and the sometimes anxious Chaya passing away at 74. On balance it was a good life.
Dominating the whole affair is Caplan, a huge presence, both physically and in terms of theatre. Anguish, Yiddish and comedy song, they all go together with him, to give a fine evening’s entertainment and discussion piece.
Wilton’s Music Hall, which itself has seen good times and bad, is a perfect setting for a stimulating night out. It is a pity the show does not have a longer run. Maybe it is not Fiddler but the underlying theme is the same. Jewish pathos is fun.
www.wiltonsmusichall.co.uk 0207702 2789