June ’07 Spotlight

 

All hail Dori Berinstein, the entertainment world’s new “Renaissance Woman.” Producer/director Berinstein began her artistic career as an uncredited production executive on the film version of Dirty Dancing in 1987. After several more films and many award-winning Broadway productions, the bicoastal Berinstein has combined her two loves in the new doc ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway.

Despite her incredibly busy schedule, Dori and I had a relaxed phone chat. “I grew up in LA loving theater,” she told me. “I was so fortunate; my parents took me to theater all the time. I always loved movies too, but theater was so vivid, so transporting, it captured me. I knew early on that I had absolutely no talent whatsoever to ever be on stage, so clearly I was going to have to find a way to be involved behind the curtain.”

ShowBusiness focuses on the 2004 season, and Jeff Marx (who wrote music and lyrics for Avenue Q), is prominently featured. One background clip caught my eye immediately, so I asked Dori when it was taken. “It was Jeff’s Bar Mitzvah, you bet,” she said. And Idina Menzel (the Tony-winning star of Wicked)?  “Absolutely Jewish,” Dori replied. “Idina [also] grew up developing her musical talent by singing at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.” So what is Dori’s explanation for the affinity between Jews and musical comedy? “Theater makes you think and theater makes you feel,” she said.  “There’s a long, very wonderful history of Jews being involved in this art form, and having used it to create change in the way people see the world. It’s also just an inspiring, transporting art form, so what’s not to love?”

ShowBusiness opens at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre on Southport on June 8.  For details, visit: www.musicboxtheatre.com. Two nights later, on Sunday, June 10, Dori will be at the 61st Annual Tony Awards with her new team from Legally Blonde: The Musical (nominated for seven awards including Best Book, Best Original Score, and Best Leading Actress). My chat with Dori continues at: www.films42.com/chats/dori-berinstein.asp

ALSO PLAYING

Lifeline Theatre Company’s new adaptation of Adam Langer’s novel Crossing California is a promising work-in-progress. The talented cast vividly portrays the coming-of-age of Jewish teenagers living in Chicago in the late ‘70s. Many of the novel’s best-loved scenes are well-captured on stage (auditioning for the youth radio show, pelting Munchkins at passing cars, interviewing Peachy Moskowitz), and Katie McLean is a stand-out as precocious “Michelle Wasserstrom,” a high school musical comedy star acting the role of a bad girl.

Unfortunately Lifeline’s small stage and limited resources can’t quite capture the novel’s rich socio-economic tableaux. The title Crossing California describes a demarcation line between comfy bungalows and cramped apartments, but Lifeline’s production never convinced me. 

Crossing California runs through June 24. For tickets, visit www.lifelinetheatre.com or call 773-761-4477.

CURTAIN CALL

Chicago attorney Charles J. Masters (aka “Chuck”) has just published a fascinating new biography of Illinois governor Henry Horner. To learn more, I attended a book signing event held at the Barnes & Noble at DePaul Center on Thursday April 26.

“Henry Horner was born to an affluent Jewish family in 1879 in Chicago,” Chuck began. “He was an average student, but he had an interest in Abraham Lincoln growing up. He read a lot of books about Lincoln, and we can see, as he gets older, the influence that Lincoln may have had as one of his male role models in life. He thought about being a journalist, going into the family business, but he decided he liked the law.”

“His law practice was successful; he was known in the city as a guy of integrity and honesty, and at age 35 he was nominated to be probate judge with the Cook County Circuit Court. It was a somewhat corrupt bureaucracy at the time. He went in there and cleaned it up. He was a very methodical man, a workaholic, and he became a prominent figure in Chicago.”

“The 1920s were great, and then, in October 1929, the stock market crashed and the party was over. People were genuinely afraid: Did the great American experiment fail?  Chicago’s mayor was Anton Cermak, and it was his job to select the slate for the 1932 general election, and he thought about this judge, Henry Horner.  Now he was aware Horner was a Jewish man, and he was also aware that there had never been a Jewish governor in any state in American history. But Cermak understood also that this man’s sterling reputation would play well both north and south. The ’32 election happened, Horner won, Roosevelt came in, and the Democrats took over.”

You’ll have to read Master’s excellent book to find out what happened next!

TZIVI’S DVD COLLECTION

Coming full circle, the 20th Anniversary DVD of Dirty Dancing was released on May 8, and I attended a promotional event at the AMC River East on May 1. The screening room was completely full, and theater reps later told me they had sold out the prior week. When I asked Dori Berinstein about Dirty Dancing, she said: “That project was a labor of love; no one at the time we were working on it had a clue what it was going to become. “

Dirty Dancing has become different things to different people. Many women simply love watching “Johnny Castle” (Patrick Swayze) in action, and the crowd at the River East (at least 90% female) often swooned in unison. I’m not immune; magnified on the big screen Johnny’s every move was magic, but for me, “Baby” (Jennifer Gray) will always be the star of Dirty Dancing.

 

Every time I see Dirty Dancing (and I’ve seen it many times), it always makes me feel very proud to be Jewish. I love Baby’s interactions with her father “Jake” (played with great menschlikeyt by Jerry Orbach); I treasure knowing Baby’s real name is Frances (after Frances Perkins, the first woman who ever served in a President’s Cabinet); and most of all, I’m elated when Jake apologizes to Johnny (“When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.”) and then enfolds his wife “Marjorie” (Kelly Bishop) in a truly sexy “dance space.” Jewish-American life circa 1963 is well-represented by the guests who spend that summer at Kellerman’s. Good triumphs over evil, and I have implicit faith that, once the credits start to roll, Frances Houseman sets off to make the world a better place.

Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com.

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