It's not always a good idea to hold community theater to the same standard as its "professional" counterpart. When workday engineers and housewives sing their hearts out on an auditorium stage, a viewer watches through a natural filter of forgiveness. So what if one performer forgets his lines or his costume falls apart? Everyone laughs, and it's all part of the experience.

Still, The King of the Schnorrers – which had its Florida premiere last weekend at the Jewish Community Center – has its moments of entertaining cultural exchange.

How The King of Schnorrers even made its way to Maitland is a story in itself. Al Krulick, the JCC's theater/cultural arts director (he's also an actor and an Orlando Weekly theater critic), stumbled upon a little-known Jewish musical by Tony Award winner Judd Woldin. (The latter's score for Raisin took the statue in 1974). Schnorrers turned out to be Woldin's reworked, rechristened version of Petticoat Lane, which he had based on Israel Zangwill's 1894 comic novella about two lovers from different Jewish sects.

Krulick loved it and went into action. His charming production sports catchy tunes accompanied by live music. Most memorable is the "Chutzpah" number, which is punctuated by a tango beat: "Chutzpah (stop) a little chutzpah (stop) goes a long, long way." And the love story is rich in history. Its setting is turn-of-the-century London, where a division exists between the Ashkenazic Jews (tradesmen descended from the ghettos of Europe) and Sephardic Jews (whose lineage traces to Spanish and Portuguese aristocracies).

Some of the actors have theater backgrounds, and their performances raise the professional level, particularly Mark Shami in his lead role of Manasseh Da Costa, the proud Sephardic beggar (or schnorrer). The characterizations essayed by the less-experienced cast members afford their own sense of amusement. In one scene, two foppish fashionistas (Aaron Tanzer and Peter Geoghegan) are conned out of their own clothes in what becomes a giggle fest – onstage and off.

Schnorrers ultimately delivers a positive message of charity and forgiveness. Plus, the knishes served at intermission are like buttah.


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