Maccabeat!

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Maccabeat!
By Harvey Shield, Richard Jarboe, and Chayim ben Ze'ev
Acorn Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
212-352-3101

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Maccabeat! may be the hammiest Jewish enterprise since the invention of fakin' bacon. This NYMT fest retelling of the Hanukkah story centers around fair-haired, slender Judah Maccabee (Mitch Dean), whose habit of questioning his existence while singing at unnaturally high pitches only enhances his resemblance to a boy-band star. Disenchanted with Judaism, Judah argues frequently with his father, the priest Matisyahu (Howard Kaye)—hence much of the musical's tension. Fortunately, the show does not linger too long in its serious content, where the acting tends to fall flat. It works best when cast members start leaping around the stage in their bathrobe-like costumes, belting songs of freedom as their yarmulkes glint under the stage lights. I'm pleased to report that such moments happen often, and that when the actors aren't hopping about like latkes in a pan, they may be crooning in barbershop quartets or cracking shameless jokes—the script is as loaded with puns as a babka is with raisins. A daunting Greek emperor, and equally daunting questions of identity, haunt the fun, and may resonate more somberly with audience members. The centrality of the Olympics to the Hanukkah story, however, probably won't resonate. No, the plot doesn't make much sense. But while some acting seems stiff, some notes off-key, and some lyrics weak, there are so many brilliant moments—as when Judah shows off his own "book of numbers" containing contact info for a few special Jerusalem ladies—it's hard to hold anything against this jubilant band of Jews.

 
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