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Sholem Aleichem on the South Side of Chicago:
The Rediscovered Musical Stempenyu
Presented by Karen Underhill and Sharon Bernstein
At Jewish Community Library, San Francisco
Shortly after he had begun adapting his fiction works for theatrical production throughout the Russian Empire, Sholem Aleichem was forced to flee Russia with his family in the midst of the anti-Jewish violence that accompanied the outbreak of the 1905 Revolution. He sent his newly adapted musical of Stempenyu, a novella about the handsome klezmer violinist Stempenyu and his love for the beautiful (and married) Rokhele, to New York, where it was rejected as being far too traditional for an American audience. A later version of the play, rewritten for the American stage, opened in Boris Thomashevsky’s People’s Theater in New York in 1907, to less than rave reviews.
Forgotten and never staged, the author’s original handwritten Yiddish manuscript of Stempenyu turned up over a century later in the basement of a home slated or demolition in Chicago’s once-Jewish South Shore neighborhood. This program tells the story of the manuscript’s reemergence, and brings to life the author’s original Stempenyu with songs and instrumental pieces from the musical production that Sholem Aleichem intended for the Russian stage.