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Strolling Back Into the Golden Age of Yiddish Theater

Jewish Rialto - Cinema Village EastKevin McLaughlin

This past weekend, the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative hosted a walking tour of the long-gone Jewish Rialto, formerly one of the preeminent theater districts outside of Broadway. The marquees touting lively music, comedy, and burlesque acts are no longer aglow, but during the three-hour stroll, theater historian Cezar Del Valle noted architectural remnants of the Yiddish theater era’s early-1900s heyday.

The district was ample, stretching from Second Avenue to Avenue B, and from Houston Street to 14th Street. Smaller stages nestled on side streets also hosted Jewish, Shakespearean, and original plays, as well as vaudeville, burlesque and musical shows.

Beginning at 143 Houston Street, Del Valle opened the tour with the story of the Houston Hippodrome, which was “a wooden ‘worm eaten building'” and a German evangelical church in the late 1800s until the General Slocum steamboat disaster in 1904. The Minksy family of real estate investors funded a reconstruction and in 1909 the space reopened, “presenting movies and vaudeville. Short plays were added circa 1912,” said Mr. Del Valle. It’s now the home of the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. Read more…

The Old Songs of the Bowery, Live

The Bowery near Broome Street in 1895NYPL The Bowery in 1895.

Lately, the Bowery has started to look more like Dubai and a whole lot less like a poor man’s Broadway. But for at least three hours on Sunday, old-time songs will echo on the street once again, as a connoisseur of vaudeville songs and a historian lead a walking tour of music from the Bowery’s heyday. Bree Benton, accompanied by a viola and accordion, will sing songs like “My Brudda Sylvest,” and “Yiddle On Your Fiddle, Play Some Ragtime” (which was written by one of the former Lower East Side’s most famous sons, Irving Berlin.)

“The songs are so full of life, they really speak to the people — the common people,” said Ms. Benton, who will play the character of Poor Baby Bree, a down-and-out kid from the Lower East Side. “People who couldn’t afford to be entertained on Broadway; they went to the Bowery.” Read more…