Comic show marries klezmer, vaudeville and gay pride

On stage there’s a chuppah, a klezmer band, a rabbi and a groom. And another groom.

That’s the tableau in “Queer Wedding Sweet,” a comic, Yiddish-flavored vaudeville show making its West Coast premiere at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco June 20 and 21.

“Queer Wedding Sweet,” which premiered at the 2005 Ashkenaz Jewish Music Festival in Toronto, features several bona fide stars from across the Jewish music world, including singers Adrienne Cooper and Marilyn Lerner, Klezmatics members Frank London and Lorin Sklamberg, and juggler Sara Felder.

“Queer Wedding Sweet” is part of the communitywide celebration of Gay Pride Month. The show is co-sponsored by the GLBT Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Equality California Institute and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The vaudeville approach seemed the best way to showcase the eclectic mix of talent. “It really is a series of different acts that we do,” said Sklamberg, who sings and plays accordion in the show. “Marilyn Lerner plays a glass harmonica. There are songs by Adrienne Cooper and me, and a tongue-in-cheek re-enactment of what a queer Jewish wedding might be like. It’s nice and light.”

Not only does Sklamberg play klezmer, he lives and breathes it. The California native is a Yiddish music archivist who co-founded the Yiddish preservationist organization Living Traditions with Yiddish scholar Henry Sapoznik and works for the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He also participated in the first KlezCamp festival on the East Coast.

In all his scholarly research, did he detect a hidden stratum of gay and lesbian references in the klezmer repertoire?

“Nothing comes to mind,” he acknowledges “There certainly is a history of people performing songs of the opposite gender with not much raised eyebrows. But as far as songs from a GLBT point of view, I don’t think so. Still, the Yiddish slang for gay is ‘fagela,’ which means ‘birdie.’ That doesn’t seem especially threatening.”

Sklamberg grew up in a Conservative home steeped in Yiddishkeit and attended Hebrew High in Los Angeles. His first pass at Jewish music came as a teenage aficionado of Israeli folkdance. Later, as a student of classical voice at USC and UCLA, he found himself drawn to klezmer. A self-taught accordionist, he joined the pioneering band Klezmatics in the mid-1980s, and went on to pursue myriad projects in the field of Yiddish music.

(Still going strong, the Klezmatics won a Best Contemporary World Music Grammy earlier this year for their CD “Wonder Wheel,” which blends klezmer with lyrics by Woody Guthrie).

Sklamberg served for a time as cantor at Beth Chayim Chadashim, a predominantly GLBT synagogue in Los Angeles. In 1983 he moved to Brooklyn to be closer to the center of the Jewish universe, but has yet to find a shul in which he feels comfortable. “Now my Jewish spirituality comes out in the music.”

As a Conservative Jew, Sklamberg has his opinions about the Conservative movement having recently opened the door to admitting GLBT rabbinic students into its seminaries. Turns out, he’s a bit skeptical.

“The way I understand it, the decision is still rather vague and noncommittal,” he says. “It’s the Conservative way, make a decision but don’t make a decision.”

Queer Wedding Sweet” plays 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, June 20 and 21, at the JCCSF, 3200 California, S.F. Tickets: $30-$36. Information: (415) 292-1233 or online at

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.