New York City; Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; and Skokie, Ill.: Sturm and Twang
Renner, Pamela, American Theatre
IT SOUNDS LIKE THE SETUP OF A JACKIE Mason joke: the one about the homesick Russian Jewish immigrant named Haskell who lands in Hamilton, Tex., in 1909. Why does he go there? Because there are already too many greenhorns on the Lower East Side of New York City, and so Haskell makes the journey south to the land of tumbleweeds.
His wife still back in Russia, he acquires a cart full of rotten bananas to sell for a penny apiece and starts going door-to-door as a fruit peddler. Customers are scarce. His stomach is growling worse than two coyotes fighting over a hambone, and the Texas sun is broiling hot. By the time he arrives at the front porch of a local Baptist banker and his wife, he's just about ready to plotz.
The two Texans take him in and he's resurrected--not with a punch line, but with a song.
Such is the premise of librettist Mark Harelik's musical The Immigrant, a twisty narrative of assimilation, hard work and the reluctant generosity of the native to the outsider--with music by Steven M. Alpers and lyrics by Sara Knapp--based upon the real-life saga of Harelik's own grandfather and grandmother as newcomers to Texas. Where many would have thrown in the towel, Haskell's real-life counterpart (Harelik's granddad) stayed. He founded a dry goods store, which supported three generations of his progeny in Hamilton. …