Based on two successful comedy albums of the 1960s, “When You’re In Love, The Whole World Is Jewish” promises nostalgic dollops of good-natured, goyim-friendly guilt and guffaws at the Marines’ Memorial Theater this weekend.
The original album, “You Don’t Have To Be Jewish,” featured soon-to-be classic schtick by a cast that included Lou Jacobi, Jack Gilford and Arlene Golonka. “When You’re In Love” was the sequel and featured a young Valerie Harper filling in for Golonka.
The production coming to The City combines the best of both records and adds new material for Barry Gordon, Michael Pasternak, Ellen Ratner, Robert Shampain, Rena Strober and Jay Brian Winnick, who are performing under the direction of Jason Alexander.
The material has long been a part of Alexander’s personal soundtrack.
“I first heard it when I was but a lad,” he recalls. “The albums actually made me laugh a lot and probably because, at 53, I think I’m in that last generation of American-born kids whose grandparents and uncles actually sound like the people on these albums.”
It’s that instantly identifiable cadence of Yiddish-tinged English that always rises at the end of a sentence whether it’s a question or not that makes the material work for Alexander.
“These are old situations, old jokes and a lot of what is great about them is the music of that old-world Jewish mispronunciation or misuse of words, or just the melodies of the language which can often turn an OK joke into a fantastic joke.”
The fact that they are old jokes with the punch line already dangling in front of them did put pressure on the actors to give the material a new life.
“This was one of our great concerns when we did the show in Los Angeles,” Alexander says. “I said, ‘Guys, you realize the audience that’s gonna come to this, knows these albums backwards. They know every punch line.’ I wasn’t sure how that was gonna affect us.”
Part of the solution was to freshen the material without changing its core. “We have spent a lot of time tweaking sketches, taking out a line that we knew wouldn’t work because it was too dated, adding something else.”
“Still, you don’t want to touch that which would be holy,” he says, adding, “People who really know this material have enjoyed kind of saying the punch line before we say the punch line, and it doesn’t seem to diminish the experience for them at all!”
IF YOU GO
When You’re In Love, The Whole World Is Jewish
Where: Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $45 to $66
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com