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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Jewish A Cappella Fest wows audience

Annual JFA-sponsored event unites nationwide Jewish groups

Published: March 11, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

In Sherman Function Hall on Saturday night, Jewish Fella A Cappella (JFA) wowed their audience with a night of a cappella music as part of their fifth annual Jewish A Cappella Fest, which presented both modern and old-fashioned songs in English and Hebrew.

The strongest performers of the night were, as is fitting, the men of JFA, Brandeis’ all-male Jewish a cappella group. As usual, JFA brought manic liveliness to the stage, pairing their neat suits with pink umbrellas for their opening number, a parody of Mel Brooks’ “Men in Tights.” Their goofy dance moves, ridiculous lyrics and perfect harmony made this show spectacular. Before handing the stage over to their guests, they sobered up a bit to sing the Hebrew song “Yom Zeh L’Yisrael.” Soloist Matthew Cohen ’11 blew the audience away with his powerful voice, making me a bit sad to see JFA leave the stage but relieved knowing they would return at the end.

When they returned, JFA opened their second set with Paul Simon’s “Cecelia” and, while they sang it well, the emotion that should be behind that song wasn’t there. Luckily, they got me right back with their next song, “Juicy Tongue on Rye from Rubin’s,” a parody of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” reworded by Gabe Bronk ’11. This song told the story of a man hallucinating food while fasting in synagogue for Yom Kippur. The crowd was crying with laughter.

The highlight of JFA’s performance, however, was their version of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” reworded by Rafi Abramowitz ’14 to be about a shomer negiah couple. The audience, me included, could not stop laughing. Not only were the words hysterical but Abramowitz performed his solo in baggy, red ’80s pants while doing moves that would make MC Hammer proud. JFA then ended with the crowd-pleasing “Nachamu,” which was lovely as always.

The second group to perform, Hooshir from Indiana University, was by far the second-best group. They had great energy and were a cohesive bunch, both in dancing and singing. They performed four songs, each sung with verve and dance moves to match. They ended their set with a “Lady Gaga Medley,” which showcased their dance savvy. From the first pose they struck, the audience died of laughter because it looked like they had just stepped out of the “Bad Romance” video. Their stand-out song, however, was “Only Hope,” soloed by Sarah Miller, who had a stunning voice, perfect for the song. I could feel the crowd responding to her, just as I was, and there was a collective sigh as we all despaired that the song had ended.

The third group was very different from the second and it may have been a mistake putting them on after Hooshir. When Ba’note, Brandeis’ all-female Jewish a cappella group, took the stage, the audience was still all riled up from Hooshir’s “Lady Gaga Medley” and it felt like we had just been smashed to the ground when Ba’note began softly singing “Hinei Ba HaShalom.” Ba’note has sung this song at nearly every performance they have given and the song is a bit tired now. Luckily, their next two songs were new songs that the audience had not heard before. For their second song, they sang “God Bless the Open Road” and although they sang beautifully, they lacked the vivacity of JFA and Hooshir. By the time they got to their third song, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” they had lost some of the audience. Although this song was fun and upbeat (I admit it, it was stuck in my head throughout intermission), they still seemed a bit stiff. Every group that performed looked like they were having a blast, except Ba’note.

After the intermission, Ani V’ata from New York University took the stage. They, like Ba’note, seemed a bit stiff at the beginning, but, by their second song, they had warmed up. While their music and dancing wasn’t perfect, their attitude seemed to rub off on the audience. They were having fun … a lot of fun. Their silliness helped make their performance so well-received. Out of their four songs, the biggest hit was their last: “Jessie’s Girl.” They got all of their desired laughs, both for their song choice and for their ridiculously dramatic ’80s posing. Additionally, the song’s soloist, Eric Williams, had great stage presence and probably could have made a poem about death seem fun.

The last group to perform before JFA made their comeback was the Alef Beats, a group from Brown University and the Rhode Island Institute of Design. They were, hands down, the worst performance of the night. Thank God, JFA came back. It really seemed like it was going to be good when they danced their way onto the stage but it wasn’t. To quote Homer Simpson: “He lied to us through song. I hate when people do that!” Although the Alef Beats were certainly having fun, the audience was not. Their singing was nice but not spectacular and the main problem was their dancing, which distracted from the singing. Whereas Hooshir’s dancing complemented their singing, the Alef Beat’s dancing detracted. They didn’t seem to have many choreographed moves, leaving each member to their own devices, which resulted in different levels of enthusiasm. The guy in the back was swaying so gently that I didn’t even realize he was moving at first and the girl in the front was moving so much that, until she didn’t fall down, I thought she was having a seizure. I was concerned.

Luckily, JFA did reclaim the stage and rescue us from the Alef Beats. All in all, despite one under-par performance and one dreadful performance, the night was a success. JFA, Hooshir and Ani V’ata were phenomenal … phenomenal enough to carry the show. I, like many others, walked out with a grin on my face, highly anticipating the sixth annual Jewish A Cappella Fest.