Performing the Jewish Archive

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Merchants of Helsinki: Yiddish Cabaret from Finland


Jac Weinstein’s (1883-1976) cabaret show The Merchant of Helsinki from 1930 depicts, with humour, the economic and existential crisis of the Jewish community in Helsinki in late 1920’s.

The show consists of couplets in Yiddish with melodies ranging from Jewish cantorial music to foxtrot, and a one act satirical play about the Jewish nouveau riche.

Originally named Revue Evening, the show follows the tradition of annually updated New Year’s revues, which had been popular already in Paris and became widespread also in Berlin in the beginning of the 20th century.  Besides the effects of the economic depression, Weinstein’s revue deals with other societal issues of the Jewish community, problems with maintaining traditional Jewish lifestyle and discussion about the future prospects of the younger generation. The manuscript of the revue came to light in 2005, when Dr Simo Muir was doing an inventory of forgotten archival material found in the heart of the former Jewish clothing business district in Helsinki.  

Merchants of Helsinki is performed by Joanna Weinberg, Geoff Sirmai, Doron Chester and Dani Mirels. Joanna is the force behind (and the voice up front of) a slew of award-winning cabaret, stage and screen hits including Lifeforce, Every Single Saturday, the Piano Diaries, Baroness Bianka’s Bloodsongs, 12 Shoes and Sinksongs – the inspiration for her feel-good international feature film Goddess. Geoff is a well-known stage and screen personality in music, theatre and comedy whose recent appearances include The Laden Table, The Diary of Anne Frank, Appls & Pears and The Merchant of Venice. Doron (The Laden Table, The Original Grease, Keating! The Musical) will soon be seen in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, opening at the Lyric Theatre in September. Dani is a recent graduate of the Australian Institute of Music and recent star appearances include (The Original Grease, Into The Woods, and shortly, FAME)


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