"A Jew Grows in Brooklyn," sure, but who knew his roots extended to Philly?
"Philly has special meaning for me," acknowledges Jake Ehrenreich, whose one-man show of a thousand memories takes up residence at the Perelman Theater of the Kimmel Center from Dec. 23 to Dec. 28.
"It's the first show I did, here in Philadelphia, in 2008, after my father died."
It is indeed a return engagement as memories return in waves for the Brooklyn-born memoirist/musician whose show started its sentimental journey four years ago off-Broadway, a time when his father was alive, infusing the performance with a passion of paternal pride that his son knows only too well, being a dad himself.
But death doesn't take a holiday and his father's passing passes through the new edition — "There is 50 percent new material," claims the actor — enriching it, ennobling it.
Much has changed for Ehrenreich — better known to his parents on his birth day as Yankle Yitzchok Ehrenreich — since that off-Broadway premiere earlier this decade.
He has toured, written a book based on the show — released by, appropriately, the Chicken Soup for the Soul publishers; is finalizing the rough cut of a documentary based on his life and show; is soon to appear in an Internet variety program; and is scripting a film set in the Catskills.
Tighten your Borscht Belt, Ehrenreich's audience eats it all up.
And it's all a rock for his future — which, due to time constraints, doesn't include his rock act as much anymore. Bang the drum slowly — or at least, slower — for this music man who's a ringer for Ringo: Indeed, Ehrenreich the rocker was Ringo at one time, touring internationally as part of the faux Fab Four in "Beatlemania."
The mania these days manages to show up on his schedule. The more things change, the more they remain … changed, says the 50ish actor refusing to stay stuck in the '50s. "Actually, the book and the documentary changed my show," he says. "I had different thoughts about doing my play and I learned more from both about my journey."
A Jewish journey it is: The first American-born son of Holocaust survivors, Ehrenreich eerily embodies in some way the old-style Catskills comic with a wider scope.
His small show can be schmaltzy but, as much as it is set in the past — "Anyone here from Bensonhurst?" — this Coney Island of a ride refused to remain on one wooden track.
"The known is the trap," he says, quoting Deepak Chopra, the New Age spiritualist — an ironic source given the Old World style of much of Ehrenreich's show.
Keep It Moving!
"The danger," he says of his evolving play, "is that it becomes a script," with Ehrenreich relying by rote on lines, losing their meaning without constant changes and ad-libs, such as the quip that his family's survivor friends attending his Bar Mitzvah were so short, he towered over them. "I felt," he improvised on stage, "as if my Bar Mitzvah was like Gulliver's Travels."
The journey hasn't been short-changed by slovenly shtick or bits bordering on boredom; his memories are intact and intriguing, with literal shout-outs on stage to the past.
Back to the future: Ehrenreich says he will never forget the struggle nor the guilt associated with his attempt to mainstream his life after living with parents whose thick accents accentuated his need to belong … elsewhere.
On the record, he will talk about problems dealing with the early-onset of Alzheimer's disease which has afflicted his mother and two sisters, making his dash down memory lane even more intrinsically important.
And also for the record, he is keeping to past promises. Papa, can you hear him? "I promised my father I would make a CD of Yiddish art and folk songs," he says.
Indeed, "Yiddish Unplugged" is his "socket it to me!" of memory.
And, like the actor himself, very approachable, with copies of the CD as well as his book available for sale in the lobby post-show.
"A Jew Grows in Brooklyn" doesn't dodge the bullet — or the touchy topic of the Dodgers, for that matter — but it's all meant to add a lift to those Holocaust stories that keep memories afloat.
But it's no showdown with the Shoah: As the rocker says, let the good times roll — and they do, onstage, the perfect fertile ground for a show in which a Jew grows in Brooklyn but never falls too far from the tree of knowledge that is his family's loving legacy.