"Call Me Adam" chats with Elli, "The King of Broadway" about his 2nd annual Chanukah show at The Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street, between 5th & 6th Avenue) on December 21 (9:30pm) and December 22 (7pm). We also discuss his Jewish upbringing and the role religion has played throughout his life and career! Click here for tickets to Elli's show Chanukah!
1. On December 21 and 22, the 6th & 7th nights of the Jewish Holiday Chanukah, you are presenting your 2nd annual Chanukah at The Metropolitan Room. What initially made you want to do a Chanukah show? The lack of any other Jewish programming during the month of December. There are sometimes shows that include a Chanukah song or two, or claim to be Chanukah shows and the content mostly has the "I’m jealous of all the other holidays this month that seem better than mine" vibe to them. It’s always been my belief that we Jews have a rich heritage and Chanukah is an important part of it. Something to 'kvell' about!
2. What made you want to make this an annual show? That’s easy, we got an amazing reception to last year’s show but since Chanukah fell out so close to Thanksgiving there were a lot of people out of town that wanted to come but couldn’t. Plus, the whole cast had so much fun doing, it we all wanted to do it again! Hopefully for many years to come!
3. What can audiences expect from this show and what do you hope audiences come away with after seeing Chanukah at The Metropolitan Room? A singularly genuine and unique celebration of Chanukah with traditional songs the audience can sing along to and some new songs from around the Globe they’ve never heard before. There will be songs in English, Hebrew, Yiddish and even Ladino from the Sephardic Jewish heritage. Songs from the liturgy and songs from Broadway. And, I throw in some facts about Chanukah in case people aren’t aware. I hope they’ll leave asking, "Will there be a show for Purim as well?"(We’re working on it!)
4. What do you enjoy most about performing at The Metropolitan Room? What do they offer you that another venue does not? Bernie Furshpan! No one else has a Bernie! He’s totally on board with my ideas and has even gone out of his way to make sure the Club has Kosher Wine for those who keep Kosher. We will also have Latkes and Sufganiot (Donuts) at the shows. The Metropolitan Room has a wonderful vibe to it and with all the new upgrades that JoAnne has made to the venue it’s just a great place to perform.
5. What do you love most about celebrating Chanukah in NYC? Menorahs and Jews everywhere. There are also dozens of Kosher eateries and Chanukah parties to attend. You could be out at a different Chanukah event every night of Chanukah (except Shabbos of course).
6. You are known as "The King of Broadway." How did you get this title? It’s quite a story but the short of it is before I moved from Miami to NYC I was doing Karaoke in a Lesbian Sports Bar. I came to NYC for an Audition and brought back a Karaoke CD from The Producers which was on Broadway at the time. There's a song in the show called "The King Of Broadway." I sang it, and afterwards the Karaoke Hostess said, "That was Elli - The King Of Broadway" and it stuck. A few months later I decided to make a web site and searched for that name AND NO ONE OWNED IT! I immediately grabbed it and have had it ever since. So - I got the moniker singing Showtunes in a Lesbian Sports Bar in Ft Lauderdale – you can’t make stuff like that up - and now that's how people refer to me! It’s pretty cool.
7. You are also one of the founding members of Improvodox, a Jewish Improv Group. What made you want to start your own Improv group instead of just joining one of the many groups already out there? I’ve been performing and teaching Improv for over 30 years. During the 15 years I taught at Jewish Day Schools in L.A. & Miami Beach I used it quite successfully as a teaching tool. When I moved to NYC I heard about a young lady wanting to start a Shomer Shabbos (Sabbath observant) improv group because all the groups she’d been in performed on Friday nights, she was looking for 5 other people to join. I auditioned and was chosen as one of the founders.
8. You have spent your career both performing and being a Hassidic Orthodox Rabbi/Cantor. When did you decide to stop performing in theatrical shows to pursue your Rabbinical/Cantorial passion? What was it like to not perform in theatrical shows after becoming a Rabbi/Cantor? What made you want to return to your theatrical performing? I have been performing since I was 5 in one form or another starting with the role of "The Arab Shepherd Boy" in Milk & Honey at the local JCC to playing "Arab" in West Side Story at the Temple (I see a weird pattern there) and many different roles in High School as well. I had always planned on becoming a Cantor, our Temple’s Cantor was like a 2nd father to me. I was his assistant (teaching Bar Mitzvah students for him) from age 11 on. During High School I became more religious and decided to go to the Chabad Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ to study to become a Rabbi as well. During my years in Yeshiva I performed in Holiday programs all over the NE. After I graduated I moved to Miami Beach, FL and began teaching/performing to a Jewish Day School audience of 20 5th graders daily while still leading services at different Shuls in S. Florida. So in truth I never really ever stopped performing. After raising a family and trying new careers after many years, my life took an unexpected left hand turn, and during the tumult I was at a friend’s Birthday party and there was Karaoke. I was pushed to go up and sing, which I did and was asked by the host to start coming to his Karaoke nights in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. One thing led to another and I gained quite a following. I decided to start travelling to NYC to audition for Musical Theatre and – well, I already told you above how I got my moniker… and here I am! BTW, I’m still teaching as I’ve happily become the Rabbi to many entertainers in NYC.
10. What have you learned about yourself from your varied careers? I learn something new every day. It’s a process and I can achieve any goal I set.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I already have my super power, it was given to me in high school by my classmates, they called me "Super Jew!"
12. If you could be any original flavor Life Saver, which one would you be? Life Savers aren’t Kosher these days, but for a short while when I was in my 20’s they were and without a doubt Wild Cherry was my favorite.
13. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what would the ingredients be? Of course it would be called "The King’s Brew." It has Fresca as the base but it’s still under development. I’ll let you know when it’s ready! For Chanukah I’m drinking Redd's Apple Ale as a compliment to the homemade applesauce I made for the homemade Latkes!
Elli began his theatrical career in Los Angeles under the direction of the famous That Little Old Wine Maker ME! James Rawley & Rawley's best friend, Lee Strasberg. Some of the many varied roles he inhabited were "Jud" in Oklahoma, "The Tin Man" in the The Wizard of Oz, "A-rab" in West Side Story, "Charlie Davenport" in Annie Get Your Gun, "Kralahome" in The King & I, "Nicely-Nicely" in Guys & Dolls and of course, the part he was born to play but never has, "Tevye" in Fiddler on the Roof. He has also appeared in such favorites as Arsenic & Old Lace, Julius Caesar, Up the Down Staircase and Our Town, to name a few. Elli's unique look and moldable image, added to the myriad of languages & accents he has perfected, lends itself to the diverse roles he plays.
For a while, Elli changed directions and lived his childhood dream of becoming a Hassidic Orthodox Rabbi & Cantor, leading religious services and teaching in Synagogues throughout the U.S. and Canada. He is now reviving his dream of taking his place on "The Great White Way," by lending his rich, multi-accented and multi-character voice to several children's audio tapes, radio and TV commercials, both in the U.S. and England.
In 2002, Elli appeared as a "Hassidic Jew" (big surprise) in the film, 2 Fast 2 Furious, filmed on location in Miami, Florida; in 2003, he worked on the Indy film, Once Upon A Wedding (now on DVD) as a "Barfly" and in 2003, he performed the role of the "Papa" in The Jazz Singer, which played South and Central Florida.
Currently working on his third one-man show, Elli has become quite popular and well known on the Florida, New York and California Karaoke circuits and is lovingly referred to as "The King of Broadway." Since moving to NYC in 2004, he has been seen in commercials, promo spots for VH1's Metal Month, as featured background in several movies and been on stage at Birdland in Times Square, the Duplex and Marie's Crisis in the Village and onstage at the Triad, doing his stand-up comedy. Elli is currently in a pilot for Comedy Central and is a founding member of Improvodox, a Jewish Improv Group.