Polish Jewish Cabaret: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs of the 1920s - 1930s. Have a listen!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Varshe -- from Rumshinsky's "Dos Meydl fun Varshe" (The Girl from Warsaw)

Here's the back story for one of the Yiddish songs we recorded for our "Cabaret Warsaw" cd, Varshe. But first, here's the video:


Or you can visit the whole cd at our record label: Cabaret Warsaw: Yiddish & Polish Hits of the 1920s - 1930s by Mappamundi

I found the disconnect between the first and second verses of this song so perplexing, I actually went on a hunt to find out more about Ola Lilith and the show, Dos Meydl fun Varshe, in which this song was the shlager (big hit).

Turns out the first verse was sung at the very beginning of the first act (Rumshinsky wrote in his memoirs that he chose to do this because Lilith was a bright star of Warsaw kleynkunst theater, newly arrived in America, and starring in her first American show, this second avenue operetta, and he wanted people to see her at her best right away. The second verse is sung much later in the show, when she has been thrown out of her bourgeois assimilated home in and is walking the streets of Warsaw at night, watching hookers at work.

I wrote a blog post about her: Digital Yiddish Theater article on Ola Lilith.

Reading the memoir of Mordechai Yardeini, I came across an article about Ola Lilith. If you want to get up to speed, go read what I wrote about her at Wikipedia: Ola Lilith, the girl from Warsaw. Her story fascinates me: born in an assimilated (Polish-speaking) middle-class family in Warsaw, she was performing in the Polish language cabaret Qui Pro Quo when she met Władysław Godik, who began his career in the Ukraine and performed in several countries before arriving at Qui Pro Quo. He persuaded Lilith to perfect her Yiddish and begin a Yiddish-language version of a cabaret, eventually called kleynkunst and/or revi-teatr, and they were among the founders of Azazel.

They later toured as a duo across Europe and then were brought to America by Rumshinsky, who wrote a vehicle for Lilith's debut as a star on this side of the Atlantic, "The Girl from Warsaw," about the fate of a well-to-do Jewish family trembling on the "edge of the holy church" (as it said in the script before it was heavily scratched out). The show begins around a Christmas tree! This Jewish family is having a Christmas eve celebration and has invited two non-Jews, a nobleman and a "Captain" (who, it turns out, was a convert away from Judaism many years before). The father and mother want their daughters to marry goyim.

Ola, a renegade, has chosen instead to fall in love with a "zhidovke komediant" (Godik) - her parents disapprove not only because he's a comedian / nightclub performer, but also because he's a Jew! They drive their daughter (Lola, played by Ola) out of the house.

More after the jump (including translation)



The second act begins in the cabaret where she now sings with her "partner" (by which we infer that they never married) and where various members of her family and their entourage show up, shocked that she's ended up in such a place.

By the end of the show, though, it turns out that the nobleman and the Captain had hated Jews all along, and particularly hated Lola's dad for being rich and owning too much in the Polish fatherland, and they've concocted a scheme to bankrupt him. Lola and her "partner" save the day and, much to the approval of the grandmother who just wants her granddaughters to marry nice Jewish boys, they get engaged.

It was incredible what I had to go through to get this script, and many people helped along the way. I was crushed that the dramatic two pages wherein the family must have driven Lola away were - MISSING! - lost to the sands of time - but delighted that there were many hand-written inserts and edits reflecting various refinements of the original script.

I think they were riding a line between titillating and nauseating their audience with the shocking Christmas party scenes - also, they must have realized that much of the Second Avenue Theater audience was as assimilated as Lola's family, or more so! And so many of the grandmother's original dark curses ('this family will come to no good end') were eliminated.

I got permission from Rumshinsky's daughter (through her grandson) to receive a copy of this script, and I'd like to translate it, but the missing pages are discouraging me.

Spread out over mountains and valleys
Far and wide, there are beautiful cities
Vienna, London, Paris, New York the proud giant
And also Berlin, Rome and Milan
Among them a pearl shines out for me
Like a pure diamond - Warsaw herself

Warsaw, how sweet your name sounds to me
Warsaw, your name sings a song to me
Warsaw: princesses, proud heroes
Warsaw: a little Paris, spicy and charming
Warsaw, you city of a thousand colors
I'm prepared to die for Warsaw
Every street and every corner is dear to me
Warsaw, I give my life to you.

"Please come, my little darling."
"Please, sir, go to hell!"
"Please - they aren't suckers." [Johns]
"Please - a fire wouldn't cost me more!"
Warsaw, here I stand, a sacrifice for you
Warsaw, I was corrupted by your sons
Oh, my empty dog's life, I'm tired of you
Warsaw, my song will soon be over.

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