This review of Fyvush Finkel Live at The Metropolitan Room was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Fyvush Finkel Live
Starring Philip "Fyvush" Finkel together with
Ian Finkel on Xylophone & Elliot Finkel on Piano
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Yes, Fyvush Finkel is still alive! This legendary vaudevillian, Yiddish Theatre star, and television icon is 93 years old. It is true, as he says, "half my life is over but looking at this audience, it's no big deal." When he entered the room, he received a great reception to which he responded: "Now I'm glad I'm getting old." Born Philip Finkel (he took on Fyvush as a stage name) in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn in 1922, he was the third of four sons of Jewish immigrant tailor Harry Finkel (from Warsaw) and housewife Mary (from Minsk). He first appeared on stage at age 9, and acted for almost 35 years in the thriving Yiddish theaters of Manhattan's Lower East Side, as well as performing as a stand-up comic in the Catskill's Borsch Belt. He made his Broadway debut in the original 1964 production of Fiddler On The Roof, joining the cast as Mordechai, the innkeeper, in 1965. Finkel then played Lazar Wolf, the butcher, in the limited run 1981 Broadway revival, and eventually played the lead role of Tevye for over 12 years in the national touring company. Finkel appeared as Mr. Mushnik in the Off-Broadway musical Little Shop Of Horrors. for five years. Then in 1988, Finkel's work in Cafe Crown earned him an Obie Award. He was cast as public defender Douglas Wambaugh in the television series Picket Fences (CBS, 1992-1996). For the role, Finkel earned a 1994 Emmy Award exclaiming at the televised ceremonies he had "waited 51 years for that moment." He played history teacher Harvey Lipschultz on Boston Public (Fox, 2000-2004) and made a splash in the bizarre 9-minute opening scene of A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers' Oscar-nominated movie.
Fyvush Finkel remained married to Trudi Lieberman March 1947 until her death in 2008. They had two sons, Ian and Elliot, both who appeared on stage with their father. They were joined by Jay Berliner on guitar, Ed Sterbin on bass, and Martin Fisher on drums. Ian Finkel bills himself as the "World's Greatest Xylophonist" (which he very well might be) and Elliot Finkel performed on piano. The sons appeared alone on stage, with the band, during the first half of the show, exhibiting their substantial talent during this Finkel Family Funfest! Ian's proficiency on xylophone was front and center as the boys and the band opened with a rousing, upbeat overture before launching into a Gershwin medley and a humorous take on "Mambo Jambo." Fyvush Finkel finally appeared on stage slightly perturbed that his boys intended him to "sing for his supper." But sing, he did! Fyvush's voice is as powerful and impressive as it always has been. He charmed the audience with his renditions of "S'Wonderful" (Gershwins) and "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" (Lerner & Loewe) before launching into "If I Were A Rich Man" (Bock & Harnick) and "L'Chaim," two crowd-pleasing favorites.
It was Fyvush Finkel's humor and perfect sense of timing that made these Finkel Follies absolutely fabulous. Examples include his observation that "Jews don't drink because it interferes with their suffering." He also told the story about how annoyed he was that a man in the front row of one of his shows was asleep and snoring. He asked the man's wife to wake him and she refused and saying, "You put him to sleep. You wake him!" A matchmaker supposedly found the perfect young woman for this particular eighteen-year-old boy to marry. He was told she would be a supportive wife and a good mother for his children. He finally asks the matchmaker, "That's all fine but is she good in bed?" to which the matchmaker says, "to be honest, I don't know. Some people say yes. Some say no." On the topic of marriage, Fyvush says his prospective father-in-law would not consent to his marriage because he didn't want an actor marrying his daughter. Fyvush argued he makes a good living as an actor and he begged his future father-in-law to withhold judgment until he saw him perform. The man agreed and sat front and center while Fyvush sang and danced his heart out putting on the best performance of his life. After the show, the man came on stage and said, "Fyvush. I consent. You may marry my daughter." Excited, Fyvush asks, "What changed your mind?" The man responded, "Now that I've seen you perform, I realize you're no actor!"
No matter what the venue, I strongly recommend you catch one of Fyvush Finkel's upcoming performances. Tickets for these two shows at The Metropolitan Room cost $35.00 plus a two-drink minimum. The show was well worth the price of admission. You will be thoroughly entertained!