Emily Rose’s witty musical comedy about a Rabbi’s daughter who becomes a lesbian is a stark reminder of the trappings still present within orthodox religious communities, writes Sophie Eastaugh
Sometimes our heart and head move in perfect synchronicity, guiding us soundly through life’s big decisions. Often it’s not so straightforward.
Such is the lot of Rachel Wiseman, whose agonising dilemma unfurls in Confessions of a Rabbis Daughter; a one-woman musical by young British writer Emily Rose.
Having toured last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and various venues across the US, Sunday’s performance at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre was the show’s final London appearance. So while you won’t be able to catch it within the M25 again anytime soon, this charming musical – or Jew-sical as I like to call it – still has a message well worth sharing.
The daughter of a modern orthodox Rabbi, Rachel has only ever dreamed of becoming a Rebbetzin. In awe of but distanced from her father, Rachel hopes that by marrying Rabbinical student Menachem and doing her duties as “a God-fearing wife”, she will get closer to the man who says the family Kiddush each shabbas.
But something happens that neither Rachel, nor the onlooking community expects. Her wedding with Menachem looming, she begins to notice feelings for her best friend Sarah. Strong feelings.
Rachel’s headspace is revealed in a song called ‘Normal’: “I’m perfectly normal, nothing abnormal, nothing is wrong with me” – a worrying reminder that our social norms still push gay individuals to feel there’s something “wrong” with them.
The fear and struggle of coming out is multiplied tenfold by the stifling gaze of the Orthodox Jewish community. Rachel manages to break free from her engagement and the social expectations that bind her, but is shunned from her community. Even her father won’t speak to her. Despite her father’s refusal to accept her choice, Rachel loyally keeps her Jewish faith, waiting patiently for others to understand.
Emily Rose’s musical shares an important experience that in a country where same-sex marriage is now legal, could easily go forgotten. That she is ostracised from a religion she so faithfully upholds while being shunned from a community that prises family so highly is the troubling irony that Orthodox Jewish leaders must consider.
The book and score is peppered with hilarious Jewish stereotypes and colloquialisms: kvetching shul-goers, shidduch-crazed shabbat dinners, mitzvah-devoted mensch. It is testament to my good Jewish education at this paper that I chuckled at the Yiddish gags in all the right places – leaving me to nudge my goy companion at the punchlines.
Emily Rose delivers this provocative tale with real warmth and sincerity, shouting for those the community overlooks. While her voice didn’t always hit the ambitious crescendos, eyes should be on this hugely likeable performer at the beginning of a promising career.
- Confessions of a Rabbis Daughter was at Upstairs at the Gatehouse as part of the Camden Fringe.
- Book, Music & Lyric – Emily Rose
- Musical Director – David Merriman
- Producer – Ilai Szpiezak