Musicians and friends of Theodore Bikel gathered on September 27 for "Remembering Theo," a memorial concert in New York at Kaye Playhouse.
OUR REVIEW: In a well-deserved sold-out venue, some of the most talented artists and musicians performed a concert to celebrate the life and work of Theodore Bikel. Important speakers such as Sheldon Harnick spoke about how it was to live and work with Theo. Such as Magic was created both on and off stage, and we could feel the presence of Mr. Bikel all around us. An evening not to ever forget and a success by all means.
NEW YORK -- Actor, vocalist, and activist Theodore Bikel died July 21, 2015, at age 91 in Los Angeles. He was remembered in a memorial concert in New York City, titled "Remembering Theo - an evening of music, laughter, and love," on September 27 in The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College (68th Street between Park and Lexington Ave.). The evening featured musical performances by many of Bikel’s friends and treasured colleagues including musical greats David Broza, Peter Yarrow, Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg, Debra Straus, Jeff Warschauer, Zalmen Mlotik, Hazzan Mike Stein, Hankus Netsky, Daniel Khan and the "Fiddler on The Roof" Alumni Ensemble. Speakers included Sheldon Harnick, Aimee Ginsburg Bikel, and Rabbi Amichai Lau Lavie.
Theodore Bikel was an Oscar- and Tony-nominated actor and folk singer who played Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" in over 2000 performances and originated the role of Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" on Broadway. He was also an accomplished film and TV actor and a long-time president of the Actors Equity Association. Mr. Bikel was also a well-loved recording artist with a career spanning seven decades, who sang in 22 languages. Many of his Yiddish, Jewish, and Folk Song recordings were chart-toppers. In 1959, he co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, where he frequently appeared with the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez.
Bikel escaped from Austria to Palestine with his Jewish family during World War II. His family were long-time Labor Zionists and his father had named him after the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl. "Theo" made an auspicious stage debut in 1943 in a play by Sholom Aleichem, "Tevye the Dairyman" (on which "Fiddler on the Roof" is based), at the Habimah Theatre in Tel Aviv. He was to co-found the city’s Cameri Theater a few years later.
Bikel then traveled to London to study at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), where he caught the attention of Peter Ustinov and Sir Laurence Olivier and began an outstanding acting career that inevitably brought him to America for a career specializing in European characters. His latest film, "Theodore Bikel in The Shoes of Sholom Aleichem," has been shown in film festivals in the States and abroad.
In the '60s, Bikel immersed himself in civil rights causes, protested the Vietnam War, and was an activist in the Democratic Party. He was a hands-on President of the Actors' Equity Association from 1973-1982. He worked to preserve the Yiddish language and was an ardent, though not uncritical, supporter of Israel. Throughout his life, he represented an alternative voice to mainstream American Jewish attitudes toward the Jewish State. In his autobiography, he noted "The American Jewish response to Israel is woefully monolithic. We who are so capable of intricate thought are almost boorishly insistent about viewing the complexities of Israeli society and political makeup through a one-channel, narrow prism."
A long-time activist for peace and human rights in the Middle East, Bikel was Chair, from 2005 until his death, of Partners for Progressive Israel (www.progressiveisrael.org), a 501(c)3 and NGO that introduces Americans to Israeli groups and organizations which are successfully working to bring Israel to a progressive, socially responsible path. The organization is presenting this memorial evening as a benefit for its Theodore Bikel Fund for Peace and Social Justice. That Fund was established in his memory in 2015 to affirm Bikel's legacy by wedding the arts and social activism. It offers scholarships to young intern activists who volunteer to work in Israeli nonprofits advancing Civil and Human Rights, Social and Environmental Justice, and Women's and LGBTQ Rights. The interns then use their creative talents to generate writing, film, and educational materials to advance these causes.
A keepsake Memory Book will be created allowing participants to share their memories of Theo. More information on how to participate is available at www.progressiveisrael.org.
Bikel was bi-coastal and his West Coast community gathered June 16 for a memorial of songs, words, and memories featuring Folk and Klezmer Music stars and leading thinkers of the Progressive Jewish community. The upcoming event on September 27 at Kaye Playhouse will offer the New York community a corresponding opportunity to gather together and celebrate his life.
The evening will also celebrate the release of Bikel's new CD, "While I'm Here" (Redhouse Records). Produced by Grammy winner Cathy Fink and Hazzan Mike Stein, it is a two-disk celebration of Theo's life in spoken word and music. The project was recorded in the final months of his life. In Disc 1, Bikel tells autobiographical stories and sings songs. Disc Two is a 17-song retrospective from his early work in the 1950s to his last recordings made during his 90th birthday concert. The set includes a 22-page booklet with historical photos.
The musical directors of the evening were Hankus Netsky and Matthew Lazar.
David Broza (Israeli singer-songwriter and activist)
Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary)
Frank London (Bandleader of The Klezmatics)
Lorin Sklamberg (musician, vocalist, and founding member of The Klezmatics)
Debra Straus & Jeff Warschauer (Strauss/Warschauer Duo, Klezmer Conservatory Band)
Zalmen Mlotik (Musician, Conductor, and Artistic Director of National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene)
Hankus Netsky (Founder/Bandleader of Klezmer Conservatory Band, Musical Director of this event)
Hazzan Mike Stein (Grammy winner, cantor of Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA)
Daniel Kahn (Klezmer band Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird)
"Fiddler on The Roof" Alumni Ensemble (Tamra Hayden, Sue Cella, Eileen Tepper, Vanessa Lemonides, John Preece, Michael Iannucci, Nick Rafaello, Jonathan Hadley. Includes Tevye’s daughters who performed with Theo.)
Sheldon Harnick (Broadway lyricist and co-author, with Jerry Bok, of "Fiddler on the Roof")
Aimee Ginsburg Bikel (widow of Theo Bikel)
Rabbi Amichai Lau Lavie (founding director of Storahtelling Inc.; spiritual leader of Lab/Shul)