Awaiting the world premiere of ‘Ah, Jerusalem’
It may sound like an alternative Seinfeld plot to the Bette Midler Rochelle Rochelle episode. But the makers of Ah, Jerusalem, the new musical comedy debuting this week in the capital are dead serious about its chances of becoming an entertainment and cultural landmark on the city’s long term landscape.
Debuting February 21 at Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem, Ah, Jerusalem! is slated for two performances a week in its initial six-month run, in the hopes of establishing it as “must see” event for any tourist coming to Israel.
What it has going for, despite its rather kitschy name, is the talent and experience of Bernie Kukoff, a veteran TV and Broadway producer, writer and comedian from Hollywood, who has devoted the last year to writing, producing, casting sand nurturing the show.
Kukoff used to write sketch comedy for everyone from Steve Allen to Pat Boone, before moving into production with seasons of The Cosby Show, Rags to Riches and even creating his own show – Diff’rent Strokes, the Gary Coleman comedy vehicle. Moving on to New York in his 60s, Kukoff produced five Broadway and off-Broadway shows, including I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (the second-longest-running musical in off-Broadway history), The Thing About Men (2004 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical), and the Elvis Presley musical All Shook Up.
Ah, Jerusalem is a collaboration between Kukoff and Danny Paller, an American immigrant to Israel who was sure that Jerusalem was ripe for a musical that combined comedy, romance and the history of the Jewish people.
Kukoff, who has been visiting Israel with his wife regularly for decades met with Paller. “He told me that there was a big entertainment gap in Jerusalem for the huge number of English speakers who come all year long. They don’t really have enough to do at night, they go to eat, walk on the Ben Yehuda midrehov [pedestrian mall], and then what? He thought that an English-language musical that was performed regularly would be a big addition to the city’s culture.”
After months of revisions, they wound up with a script summarized by the following elevator pitch:
“Charlie and Madeline Axelrod and their teenage daughter Robin are packed to go on vacation to Mexico when Charlie gets a nighttime ‘vision’ from his ancestral Uncle Mordechai imploring Charlie to go on a mission to Jerusalem to retrieve a family treasure.
“And so begins the adventures of the Axelrods of Indianapolis, as they travel through centuries – encountering love in the time of King Solomon, danger in the time of the Crusades, and a ‘ticket to history’ in the Jerusalem bus station circa 1920.
The show is full of humor and twists, as the Axelrods experience a high-energy, transformational journey through Jerusalem.”
Whether it becomes a legendary Jerusalem landmark, or a fly-by-night good-intentioned effort remains to be seen. But by the end of this week, Ah, Jerusalem will be a reality, and the latest chapter in Bernie Kukoff’s colorful career.