Read What The Critics Are Saying about SHLEMIEL THE FIRST

For the greater part of a decade, Theater J, under Ari Roth's artistic direction, has dared to ask tough questions and dig deep, paring away at fundamental issues of import for contemporary Jews. Gratefully, thankfully even, Shlemiel The First doesn't ask its audience for much. Enough of the high drama, self-examination and flagellation already. Theater J nudges us to snicker, giggle, guffaw.

This toe-tapping, cartoonish sketch featuring a handful of beloved folktales set in Chelm, that adored fictional Jewish village of wise and foolish fools, lands lightly on the Goldman Theater stage at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. So, nu? Why not have a good time?  - Lisa Traiger, The Washington Jewish Week

One of the delights of "Shlemiel the First" is the vivacious, infectious score by Hankus Netsky and Zalman Mlotek, played to toe-tapping perfection by violinist Daniel Hoffman (who mischievously samples "Fiddler on the Roof" from time to time during the show), clarinetist David Julian Gray and pianist Derek Bowley.  - Jayne Blanchard, Washington Times

Shlemiel the First is a delightfully entertaining production. Theater J has gathered a marvelous cast of actors and musicians to make this show a fun experience for young and old alike. Make it a treat for your family for the holiday season – See it! 

 – Bob Davis, WGMS

In 2006 Nick Olcott directed a staged concert version of this rollicking klezmer musical adapted by Robert Brusten from a story from I. B. Singer’s Stories for Children with Donna Migliaccio, Amy McWilliams, Thomas Howley and Dan Manning heading a marvelous small cast. (Click here to read the review of that concert version.) Now the musical gets a full staging and the leads are back. It remains a great deal of fun. McWilliams’ is superb and Migliaccio is no slouch, either. The music remains infectious and there is a continuous stream of whimsy, such as the such as a cure for a rich man’s mortality … Since no rich man ever lived in the town of Chelm, none ever died there. So a rich man can avoid death by living in Chelm! It is illogical logic like that which animates the entire story.  - 

"an unusual mix of broadly played ethnic humor, buoyant klezmer music, and charming folk tales, now getting its area premiere at Theater J, delivers big laughs and a bigger heart, which is just what theatergoers need this holiday season." -

A Visit with Amy McWilliams: Schmoozing with Theater J’s Mrs. Schlemiel

Joel Markowitz from DC Theatre Scene sat down with local actress/singer Amy McWIlliams to talk about her role as Tryna Rytza, the ever suffering and forgiving Mrs. Shlemiel, in Theater J’s Klezmer musical Shlemiel The First, now freylaching  (dancing) on the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater stage.   Listen to the Podcast.

Press from Previous Productions of Shlemiel the First 

"A masterpiece of mishegas that manages to be mindlessly entertaining and instructive at the same time.  It’s intelligently insane and brilliantly inane."The Boston Globe, 1994

"Crosses over from Yiddish to English carrying much of its original impish folk humor and wisdom, plus toe-tapping klezmer tunes"
Variety, 1994

"Easily one of the most exuberant shows to his New York since, well, since Fiddler on the Roof"Backstage, 1994

"You don’t have to be Jewish to be charmed by the new musical Shlemiel the First, only human"
The Boston Herald, 1994
"Rollicking new klezmer musical…propulsively tuneful music…dazzling lyrics"The New York Times, 1994

"A joyful noise, a breath of fresh rhythm on the stage… Packs more pleasure than many overblown Broadway machines.  It’s positively klezmerizing"Newsweek, 1994

"Klezmer music wraps its sinuous delights around the comic genus of Isaac Bashevis Singer”The San Francisco Examiner, 1996

"Busting its buttons with joy…fresh and elegant"The New Yorker, 1994

"Nothing, from beginning to end could be more fun: Shlemiel the First returns us to the root and heart of musical comedy…playful wise, sweet, a bit, mad, fast and very funny indeed" The New York Observer, 1994

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