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February 4: Shmendrik

February 4, 2015

00sSigmund Mogulesko, a great comic actor and singer of the Yiddish theater for whom Abraham Goldfaden wrote the comic operetta Shmendrik, or the Comical Wedding in 1877, died at 65 on this date in 1914. Mogulesko dominated the Yiddish stage in Romania after starring in Shmendrik, then settled in New York in 1886 and became a star in Boris Thomashevsky’s productions and in Jacob Adler’s Siberia (1892). According to the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1904, Mogulesko was “the best comedian on the Yiddish stage” and “a leading composer of music for the Yiddish stage,” with an output that included music for Jacob Gordin’s only operetta, The Fair Miriam. Mogulesko was co-founder of the Rumanian Opera House on Second Avenue and Houston Street in New York, later to become the National Yiddish Theater. When he died, his memorial service at that theater drew over 20,000 people, who tried to fight their way in past fifty club-swinging police.

“Typical of Mogulesko’s virtuosity was his New York debut in Coquettish Ladies, in which he played a different part in each act: a young pimp, an old drunk, and a gossipy lady matchmaker.... Abraham Cahan, the well-known Jewish publisher and historian, wrote, ‘A born genius he was, and his personality was as marvelous as his art. His talent and charm lit that foolish play with rays of divine fire....’ ” —The Oxford Companion to American Theatre