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‘The Golden Land’ and ‘Hamelin,’ Two Musicals, Open Off-Broadway

November 12, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″The Golden Land″ is an affecting if overlong musical pageant, tracing the Jewish experience in America from the wave of immigrants around the turn of century to the hope created by the birth of Israel.

The musical, which opened Monday at off-Broadway’s Second Avenue Theater, exerts its strongest emotional pull when it concentrates on the struggles of the new arrivals. In the first act, it follows them from Ellis Island to New York’s Lower East Side and into the garment industry, the labor movement and eventually to citizenship.

Unfortunately, the second act sags under the weight of too much material. It makes sidetrips into such areas as the Yiddish theater and radio, while racing to include every historical event from the Roaring ’20s to the Depression to the Holocaust and finally the formation of Israel.

The more than 50 songs were compiled by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld. They include standards from the Yiddish theater, some with new English lyrics by Jacques Levy.Levy also directed and he propels the story as fast as the mountain of material allows.

The six performers - Bruce Adler, Phyllis Berk, Joanne Borts, Avi Hoffman, Marc Krause and Neva Small - are exceptional singers, especially Borts who gives a robust rendition of ″Oy, I Like Him″ and Neva Small who turns ″Ballad of the Triangle Fire″ into a poignant anthem for the oppressed.

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″Hamelin,″ the new rock musical at off-Broadway’s Circle in the Square Downtown, will not do for rats what ″Cats″ did for felines of the domestic variety.

Loosely adapted from the Pied Piper fairy tale, this misguided little show transforms the furry creatures into punk rockers who overrun the town with the acquiescence of its wimpy mayor and his greedy wife.

To the rescue comes the Piper, literally dropping from the sky on his way to Pismo Beach, Calif., for ″sun, a good beach and cheap sushi.″ Looking and sounding like a refugee from the Australian bush, the Piper dispatches the rats by the end of Act 1 and fills the second with platitudes as he tells the town’s discontented teen-agers, ″Music is the answer.″

It isn’t, but at least some of the songs by Richard Jarboe and Harvey Shield have spirit if not much originality, and the cast hammers them home with a cheerful enthusiasm. It’s the story, written by Jarboe, Shield and Matthew Wells, that sinks the evening. The dialogue is dumb and the jokes awful. ″Hamelin″ is a mouse of a musical.

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