Such a wealth of talent is on display in "Stars of David," the musical revue being staged by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, it is almost surprising that this vehicle brings so little light and heat to its subject matter.
"Stars of David" is based on Abigail Pogrebin's bestselling book of the same name, a collection of interviews she undertook with 62 prominent public figures who share stories about the impact their Jewish heritage has had upon their lives. Her subjects range from politicians and philanthropists to movie stars and TV personalities. In the stage version, selected interviews have been turned into musical numbers that are linked together with short cameo appearances by a number of prominent figures. The result is a dizzying collage of celebrity.
What's most striking about "Stars of David" is that its star-studded pedigree produces so little result. The list of contributing composers and lyricists reads like a who's who of American musical theater — Michael Feinstein, Sheldon Harnick and Jeanine Tesori, to name a few — yet many of the songs are not particularly memorable and the jumble of styles gives the work a disjointed quality. Further, the tiny snippets of insights and experiences shared by the literally dozens of famous figures portrayed here reveal too little and pass too quickly to tell us much at all.
Despite the unwieldy material, Michael Kissin's solid direction and a fine cast give the fast-paced 90 minutes plenty of energy and its serious moments are nicely balanced with bold comedy. The clean lines of Michael Hoover's set design and Kevin Dutcher's sprightly music direction conjure the slick presentation style of a variety show.
Daisy Macklin Skarning provides a poignant high point as a 17-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg reliving her distress at being excluded from the all-male minyan at her mother's funeral. Laura B. Adams offers spot-on comic characterizations of Joan Rivers and Fran Drescher, while David Carey brings thoughtful work to his depiction of several famous figures, including Mike Nichols, Feinstein and designer Kenneth Cole. Bryan Porter lends contagious charm and a fine voice to his portrayals of Andy Cohen and Leonard Nimoy, and his rendition of Tony Kushner's song "Horrible Seders" is a witty highlight of the show.
However, for all the sparkle of this production and the many tantalizing hints of hidden depths that this fine cast reveals, the material they've been given to work with ultimately doesn't shed enough light.
Lisa Brock is a Minneapolis writer.