Purim goes pop: Musical brings the top 40 to the Jewish holiday

purim musical
Princes of Persia: This year’s “A Very Awesome Purim” performance has a pop music theme, but a previous show featured Disney characters in the Purim tale.
Courtesy of Josh and Rachael Silverbauer

Why is this night more awesome than all other nights? 

A new musical will put a pop spin on an ancient Jewish tradition! “A Very Poppy Purim,” at Littlefield in Gowanus on March 7, will add Top 40 tunes, goofy characters, and a big dose of audience participation to the festive holiday, said the husband-wife duo behind the party.  

“Part of the charm of the show is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Josh Silverbauer, who launched an annual series of “A Very Awesome Purim” shows with his wife Rachael 10 years ago. 

The joyous Jewish holiday is typically celebrated with costumes and a retelling of the Purim story, in which a Jewish woman, Esther, marries the King of Persia in order to prevent the king’s anti-Semitic advisor from killing all the Jews. Audiences boo whenever the evil advisor is mentioned, and cheer for Esther. 

“A Very Poppy Purim” will turn all those elements up to 11. It replaces the main characters with pop icons, with Esther becomes the Lady Gaga-esque “Lady Esther,” and marrying the King of Pop, and the songs will all parody pop hits from the 1960s to today, such as “All the Kingdom’s Ladies,” and “Like a Persian.” The audience responses will also be heightened, said Josh. 

“As the narrator, I basically assign a bunch of call-and-responses,” he said. 

When the king walks on stage, participants will give a high-pitched “hee hee” that mimics Michael Jackson, and when Lady Esther appears, the audience will sing “Ooh la la,” from Lady Gaga’s song “Bad Romance,” he explained.

Rachael and Josh, both musicians, began hosting musical Purim parties 10 years ago in their Philadelphia home with a group of friends. Within a couple of years, the audience grew so large that they could barely find space to perform, they said. 

“The last time it was in that house we had so many people that we only had a four-by-four area to perform,” Rachael said.  

This year the musical will have four performances in Philadelphia, in addition to the Brooklyn event. Despite the show’s popularity, the couple say they still treat it like a party among friends. The theme changes each year based on their fans’ votes — previous shows have featured the Beatles, Disney movies, and musical one-hit wonders  — and telebrating with attendees is central to the show.

“We do a lot of going out in the audience and interacting with people,” said Josh. “The after-party is very much a part of the show.” 

The couple also hope that Gentiles will attend the show and learn more about the tradition.

“We’re making Jewish culture accessible to Jewish people and non-Jewish people,” Rachael said. 

“A Very Poppy Purim” at Littlefield (635 Sackett St. between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, www.veryawesomepurim.com. March 7 at 7 pm. $15.