What Was Yiddish Vaudeville?

In the early part of the twentieth century, Jews had their own segregated vaudeville circuit. On New York’s Lower East Side you could find a thriving Yiddish theatre scene, a component of which was Yiddish vaudeville. Echoing the nickname for New York’s uptown theatre district, 2nd Avenue became known as the Jewish Rialto. According to cinema historian Judith Thissen, in a Houston Street theatre (known to New Yorkers today as the Sunshine Cinema), audiences could go to see a Yiddish language vaudeville show someone called “the prophet Elijah”, Hilda, the Swedish handcuff queen, jugglers, one-act plays, songs and dances, and klezmer music, all on the same bill. From this environment came the Yiddish theatre’s greatest actress Molly Picon, who was to play the Palace on many occasions. As this community began to move out of the cities in the mid-twentieth century, Yiddish vaudeville, too, dispersed. I think it would be safe to say, though, that one region that carried on the tradition was the Catskills!

To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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