(New York Jewish Week) — Broadway actor Oliver Prose and I met on a bench outside of the iconic Bow Bridge in Central Park in the middle of a sunny afternoon. He’s nearly six months into his Broadway debut in “New York, New York” — and two days fresh off a performance at the Tony Awards — but he shows no signs of slowing down.
Prose chose this scenic spot for our meeting because it’s the real-life inspiration for one of his favorite sets on the show, which nabbed a Tony on Sunday for Best Scenic Design of a Musical.
“In all of the scenes — Grand Central, Bow Bridge, Penn Station — all these iconic locations are recreated with the sets,” he said. “It’s aesthetically one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen.”
“New York, New York,” is a dance-heavy musical from legendary songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb. It weaves multiple narratives about musicians trying to make it in New York City in 1946, portrayed here as a post-war era of possibilities and potential. Among a diverse cast of characters, Prose plays the musical’s lone Jewish character: Alex Mann, a young violinist auditioning for Juilliard who fled Poland just before the Holocaust began.
As tourists strolled by scarfing down cart hotdogs, taking selfies and listening to tour guides, Prose and I talked about what it’s like to be Jewish on Broadway right now — both in and out of the dressing room — in a moment when Jewish stories are receiving a lot of attention. Case in point: Antisemitism-themed “Parade” and “Leopoldstadt” won the Tonys for best revival of a musical and best play, respectively. The theme will continue with Alex Edelman’s “Just for Us,” which opens this summer, followed by Barry Manilow’s “Harmony” in the fall and “Prayer for the French Republic” in the winter.
As we chatted on a bench across from the bridge, I happened to notice a blue “chai” pendant peeking out of his casual black collared shirt. I asked him if the necklace is part of the show, like Michaela Diamond’s Jewish star that she wears as her “Parade” character, Lucille Frank.
It’s not, “but I did buy this for the opening of the show,” he said. “I’ve never worn any jewelry really, ever. There was never really a moment for me before that made me feel like I needed to project: ‘This is my Jewishness.’ But for this show, it really felt right.”
“I never really felt super comfortable, or the need to say ‘I’m Jewish,’ because I don’t practice that often,” added Prose, who grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and now lives in Brooklyn. “I haven’t been to temple since I was a teenager. I celebrate holidays with my family, but it’s always been something that I relate to my family. I’ve never really felt it personally before, but because of this role, I have really started to feel proud to be Jewish.”
Playing a Jewish character as his first role on Broadway feels “appropriate,” he said. And, as it happens, the part in “New York, New York” is one of the first shows, on or off Broadway, that he has worked on since graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2019. For the last few years, he has been working as an administrative assistant at NYU while sending out self-tape auditions.
“When the semester ended, I had no idea what I was going to do,” he said.
After sending out an audition tape for the musical in late December last year, Prose had one in-person callback in January — later that night, his agent called to tell him he got the role.
“I never would have expected to be in a Susan Stroman-directed Kander and Ebb musical for my first Broadway experience,” Prose said, emphasizing that he’s “not a song and dance guy” — his last role was in a three-person show in Arizona. “If you had told me a year ago that I was going to be doing that — specifically at the Tonys — I would have said you’re completely crazy.”
“It’s been an eye-opening experience as a young, emerging artist,” he added.
“New York, New York,” designed for Broadway’s tourist crowd, is loosely based on the 1977 Martin Scorsese film of the same name, although Alex Mann and several other supporting characters were written specifically for this production, as part of the book by David Thompson. It features the catchy tunes from the movie, including its title song — you know the one — as well as new songs written by “Hamilton” legend and “Fiddler on the Roof” fan Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The plot centers around the volatile relationship between bright-eyed, aspiring musicians Francine Evans (Anna Uzele), who has come to New York via Philadelphia, and the jaded, multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Doyle (Colton Ryan). Along the pair’s up-and-down journey to success they cross paths with several other musicians trying to make it in the big city — like Prose’s Alex Mann, a violin protegé.
“It’s a show that’s trying to cover a lot of stories,” Prose said. “A lot of them really don’t have to do with being Jewish and what Judaism meant to that time.”
But Prose acknowledges how “Jewish stories are being explored on Broadway in a variety of ways,” right now, he said. “From a broad perspective, on Broadway, it’s something that’s being celebrated and recognized. But it’s also being opposed, which is what really tells me that the world is listening. People are hearing this and like, people don’t like it — and that makes it even more important.”
“I feel a part of all of that,” he added.
We finish our interview walking across the bridge and out of the park. Prose described how he’s still getting used to the nighttime work schedule. We say our goodbyes; I head to Midtown to write this article, while Prose makes his way to the St. James Theater to take a nap in his dressing room before that evening’s curtain call.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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