The Rabbi and the Cheerleader
nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
August 13, 2006
I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to be in for when I first heard the title, The Rabbi and the Cheerleader. I was initially wary that it was going to be a sort of low-brow, risque spectacle, but thankfully, this solo show written and industriously performed by Sandy Wolshin about how she became a professional football cheerleader and then later converted to Orthodox Judaism, aspires to a higher, if somewhat self-indulgent, purpose.
Wolshin begins the show filling us in on her early years, which I found to be one of the show's big weak areas, as she spends what feels like a disproportionate amount of time introducing us to her family, and to herself as a child. It isn't long before it kind of feels like you're watching someone else's home movies—hard to stay interested in if you don't know or care enough about the people involved. While some of the information we learn in this part of the show is undeniably essential, and Wolshin does an admirable job embodying the diverse members of her family, this section would benefit from some judicious editing.
The comedy she intersperses throughout the show could also be improved upon. Wolshin apparently has had some experience as a stand-up, but the jokes and quips mostly sound like a weak echo of tired Borscht Belt fare and you wish her observations packed more of a unique punch. That said, the show does manage to come alive in several spots. In particular, when Wolshin performs some of her old cheerleader routines while dressed in her own modest Orthodox neck-to-ankle style; it is a fascinating paradox in action. There are also some touching moments, including her memory of the day when she made the decision to leave her partying cheerleader life behind to follow a spiritual path. Also, her re-enactment of her first encounter with the Rabbi who would eventually become her husband is a charmer.
All in all, The Rabbi and the Cheerleader left me feeling that this is a piece primarily geared to connect with the senior set and, specifically, people who can identify with the challenges that come with leading an Orthodox life. If Wolshin hopes a "Big Macher with a lot of pull will see her show and help her take it to Broadway," as she writes in her press release, she'll need to consider finding ways to broaden its appeal.