The Jerusalem Syndrome – A Romp

Jerusalem Syndrome is an actual delusional state experienced by about 200 tourists to the Holy City every year. Apparently ordinary people suddenly imagine they’re characters from the Bible. Psyche wards have grown accustomed to the phenomenon. (It passes.) Authors Holzman and Rosen did first person research.

The musical is unquestionably fun. That characters represent cliché types makes dual transformation -from ordinary lives to ecclesiastical figures, then back, – easier to grasp. There’s a sweetness to the piece. Nothing preachy or pedantic interferes. Music is generic Broadway meets Jewish with some nifty swing and jazz parentheses. Lyrics and jokes range from utilitarian to zingy. A mixed bag.

Exiting an El Al Flight are: Phyllis Feinberg (Farah Alvin, reliably good vocals and sympathetic) and her husband Alan (Jeffrey Schecter), she hoping for a romantic two weeks, he obliviously glued to his business cell phone. Charles Jackson (Alan H. Green, sings, dances, acts, and cartwheels with flair), a nattily dressed African American there to sell a piece of land he inherited to a company building a hotel for gay men- directly across from a church.

Farah Alvin

Weeping Lynn Horowitz (Dana Costello, a fine comedienne) whose husband left her for his secretary. First time bumbling tour guide Eddie (an appealing Chandler Sinks) leading Mr. and Mrs. Lowenstein (John Jellison and Karen Murphy) and Mr. and Mrs. Frankel (Lenny Wolpe and Jennifer Smith), all tolerant friends of his parents. Soap opera heart throb Mickey Rose (James D. Gish, who makes the most of his incarnation), there to film.

Except for the imaginative “Daddy Loved Jesus More Than You” (Charles Jackson’s memory) performed in gospel choral robes, Act I songs before character morphing are more informative than creative. “God lead our ancestors here to where milk and honey flow,” sings “The Power of Israel.” Surely the collaborators could’ve come up with something fresher.

John Jellison, Curtis Wiley, Karen Murphy, Alan H. Green, Jennifer Smith, Danielle Lee James, Lenny Wolpe – The Market Place

At the Western Wall, following tradition, Phyllis wedges a slip of paper with her wish into a crack. Alan pulls at her sleeve anxious to move on. “Phyllis?” “My name is Sarah!” she snaps, referring to the biblical matriarch/prophetess. “I have to find Abraham!” (Sarah’s husband.)  A local policeman recognizes the situation packing the couple off to Hadassah Hospital (Psyche Ward) with no more reaction than a shrug. We, however, sit up with anticipation.

Josh Lamon, Jeffrey Schecter, James D. Gish, Farah Alvin

Dr. Ben Zion (Josh Lamon) explains the syndrome to Alan with adroit lyrics (eliminating the need for the earlier title song.) The actor is effectively  understated throughout, delivering verse with wry precision and superb comic timing. “If you’re not Abraham, Isaac (Sarah’s son), or Jacob (Sarah’s grandson) you’re no help to Phyllis right now,” he tells the distraught Alan.

Mickey Rose, who thinks he’s Abraham, is already incarcerated. Floor nurse, Rena (Laura Woyasz, screechingly over-the-top), panting and gossiping, schemes to get into his room. The oversexed patriarch is more than ready, impatient to bed his young wife – is this she? – and populate the land.

Lynn Horowitz, skibbling and whirling (wonderful, zany movement) imagines herself the busy God. Mrs. Lowenstein offers an apple believing she’s Eve (there are fig leaves pinned to her hospital gown.) Mr. Frankel becomes King David holding a bedpan of Holy Water.

Insecure, clutzy Eddie, of course, “becomes” Moses. God believes in him. “Pull yourself together. I’m the Lord and I picked you,” she declares. “You Can Lead” (out of Egypt to The Promised Land) the group sings. Lynn and Mickey are attracted. This is handled with humor and originality utilizing parallels in their civilian lives. Off treks the group behind young Eddie draped in a blanket carrying a mop staff.

Alan J. Green

Meanwhile, Charles Jackson has gone the other route. He thinks he’s Christ. “It’s good to be back.” Swathed in a sheet, he separates arguing street vendors and stops a rock fight between Arabs and Jews before they catch and inter him. It’s Amazing what a “Wierdo in a Bedsheet Can Do,” the ensemble sings. Abraham meets Sarah and is convinced they should travel home. “My husband loves me just the way I am/I’m blessed to have a man like Abraham,” she sings addressing Phyllis’s fears. He’s lusty, she hesitates…until they decide “We’re doin’ it for God!” at which point Alan finds them.

Most lives resume- changed.

Lenny Wolpe, John Jellison, Karen Murphy, Danielle Lee James, Chandler Sinks, Dana Costello, Jennifer Smith, Curtis Wiley

Director Don Stephenson has an infectiously good time with the embodiment of Biblical characters. Exaggerations (excepting Rena) stop short of over the top. Stephenson does a particularly good job with his actor’s facial expressions and distinctive, quirky movement. Physical interaction- the push/ pull of refusing to budge, amorous attempts- has charm.

Choreography (Alex Sanchez) is buoyant. Scenic design by James Morgan offers a/the wall with well placed, invisible doors and visually familiar backdrop. Less is more. Projection design (Caite Hevner) is subtle and apt but sometimes gets lost in other bright lighting.

Varied combinations of hospital gowns and bed sheets creating Biblical apparel is imaginative and droll. (Costumes (Fan Zhang) Polly Solomon’s Props work in humorous tandem.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Chandler Sinks, Karen Murphy, Dana Costello, Danielle Lee James, Jennifer Smith

The Jerusalem Syndrome
Book and Lyrics by Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman
Music by Kyle Rosen
Dedicated to Felicia Needleman who passed this year
Music Director/Arrangements/Orchestrations – Miles Plant
Directed by Don Stephenson

Through December 31, 2023
The York Theatre Company
Theatre at St. Jean’s 
150 East 76th Street

About Alix Cohen (1791 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.