One may not recognize Deb Filler when she takes the Mandel Jewish Community Center’s Stonehill Auditorium stage in Beachwood on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. with her show, “I Did It My Way in Yiddish (In English).”
Filler is an internationally acclaimed singer and storyteller and may well be the only Jewish comic to come out of New Zealand. Her performance, like the others she has performed, is a one-woman show. But Filler introduced 36 characters in her “Punch Me in the Stomach” performance piece, which received rave reviews when performed at the JCC Halle Theatre in Cleveland Heights in 1996 and she transforms into 27 characters in another of her hit shows, “Filler Up!”
Filler takes on fewer characters in her 90-minute “I Did It My Way in Yiddish (In English).” But, she said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto, “They do tend to pop up like plantar warts in my work. I don’t think I could really do a show without them.”
Though often referred to as a comic, Filler prefers “situational comedian,” which means that she tells jokes.
“I have a repository of 500 Jewish jokes alone and I’m not afraid to use them,” she said.
However, she is more likely to perform humorous, self-disclosing stories in her shows. In this production, which includes music and a short film co-written by Filler and Guy Hamlin, the stories tend to revolve around the people in her life who influenced her performing career and her love of music.
One of those is her father – a man who believed that every song sounds better in Yiddish – and famed composer Leonard Bernstein. Filler learned from her father, an Auschwitz survivor, how in 1948 at the displaced person’s camp in Feldafing, Germany, the young maestro made an appearance. Watching Bernstein play Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with an all-Jewish orchestra of survivors re-awakened her father’s hope and spirit. As Filler will share with greater specificity and skill, she would later track down an older Bernstein to thank him for saving her father’s life. He, in turn, would inspire her to become a musician.
Coincidentally, the special exhibition at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage is “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music,” which runs through March 1.
Filler’s performance is presented by Interplay Jewish Theatre, the Maltz Museum and the Mandel JCC.
“Come ready to laugh,” said Filler when asked what audiences should expect from her show. “But be prepared to be moved as well.”