The company of "The Band's Visit" North American tour. (Photo/Matthew Murphy)
The company of "The Band's Visit" North American tour. (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

‘Band’s Visit,’ Fran Lebowitz and Nissim Black will go on — omicron permitting

Let’s start 2022 off with some good culture news: Most venues that were closed this time last year are now open, and big shows and acts are coming to town once again. The bad news, as we all know, is that omicron is spreading among the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, leading to low ticket sales and possible cancellations.

At press time, the following performances by Jewish entertainers were still on the calendar. Let’s hope they stay there.

‘The Band’s Visit,’ an award-winning musical set in Israel

For more than a dozen years, Ava Brand has been buying and reselling tickets to BroadwaySF theatrical shows as a fundraiser for youth programs at Adath Israel, an Orthodox shul in San Francisco. (She claims she gets the next-best seats after BroadwaySF season subscribers.)

The program has been on hiatus since early 2020 due to the pandemic, and Brand said she was looking forward to a triumphant comeback this month when “The Band’s Visit,” a musical set in Israel, comes to the Golden Gate Theatre starting Jan. 11. “People were saying they can’t wait to go back to the theater, and now this,” she said, referring to the spread of omicron. “It’s very iffy.”

Based on a 2007 Israeli film, “The Band’s Visit” won 10 Tony awards, including best musical and best book. (The book was written by playwright Itamar Moses, who was born and raised in Berkeley.) In the national tour coming to the Golden Gate, Israeli actor Sasson Gabai reprises the role he originated in the movie. As Tewfiq, he leads an Egyptian police orchestra that has traveled to Israel to perform at an Arab culture center in Petah Tikvah. Due to a miscommunication, the orchestra gets lost in the Negev desert and must depend on the assistance and hospitality of local Israeli Jews, including café owner Dina (Janet Dacal in the role originated by Ronit Elkabetz).

Among the 20 or so people who have reserved tickets through Brand, San Francisco resident Seth Skootsky will be in the audience on opening night — as long as the show is not canceled. He told J. he has seen both the movie and the original Broadway show, which starred Tony Shalhoub (“Monk” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”).

“It’s beautiful music,” Skootsky said, “and I love the fact that the musicians are actually in costume and on the stage.” Of the story, he noted, “It doesn’t get political. It kind of just takes for granted the idea that people should treat each other like human beings.”

Anyone who is interested in joining Brand’s theater list can email her at [email protected]. Donations made to Adath Israel through ticket purchases are tax-deductible.

“The Band’s Visit.” Jan. 11 through Feb. 6 at Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F. $56 and up. No children under 5 allowed. Proof of vaccination, including booster shots for those 16 and older beginning Feb. 1, and masks required.

Jewish rappers make tour stop in S.F.

After collaborating on a remix of Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song in late 2021, Jewish rappers Nissim Black and Kosha Dillz are now performing around the country together. Their “Brights Lights” tour will make a stop at Brick & Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco on Jan. 23. Westside Gravy, a young Black and Jewish rapper from San Diego, will open for them.

In many ways, Black and Kosha Dillz are a Jewish hip hop yin and yang. Black is an African American Orthodox Jew from Seattle who now lives in Israel. He dresses in traditional Hasidic garb, complete with a black shtreimel or fedora, and raps about his identity and spirituality in sleekly produced songs such as “Mothaland Bounce” and “Best Friend.”

Kosha Dillz is a white, bald, not-so-religious American Israeli from New Jersey. His aesthetic is more playful than Black’s; he often performs in brightly colored suits and is best known for his stream-of-consciousness freestyle rapping. On TikTok, he recently posted a video of himself rhyming about Jews and Chinese food — inside of a Chinese restaurant in New York City.

The rappers have known each other for years and do share some things in common. In addition to their love of Judaism and hip hop, they both came down with Covid — once for Black, twice for Kosha Dillz. (Such are the perils of being artists who rely on income from performing in public.) But they are both healthy now and drawing diverse crowds to their shows, according to Kosha Dillz. “I’ve toured with Wu-Tang [Clan], so to tour with Nissim is a little bit of a twist,” he told J. “There’s people that come from every walk of life, everyone from Orthodox Jews to people from Sweden that heard us on the radio, to trans Jews, teens, old people and hip hop heads.”

He added, “We’re real rappers. We’re not just banking on being Jewish. That’s just one of the communities that we operate in.”

Nissim Black: The Bright Lights Tour with Kosha Dillz. 8:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at Brick & Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., S.F. $36 general, $108 VIP. Proof of vaccination and masks required. 

Fran Lebowitz brings her unique brand of storytelling to Berkeley

Professional kvetcher Fran Lebowitz is so closely associated with New York City — her home for more than 50 years and her enduring muse — that this Californian never paid much attention to her. But then I watched the 2021 Netflix docuseries “Pretend It’s a City” and gained an appreciation for her unique brand of storytelling: social commentary mixed with nostalgia for “simpler” times, spiced up with literary allusions, celebrity name-dropping and sharp-edged humor.

In the seven-episode series, which was directed by Lebowitz’s close friend Martin Scorsese, she holds forth on an array of topics, from her experience working as one of very few female taxi drivers in NYC in the 1970s to the “racket” of the modern art world to the joys of reading. She also takes a few weak jabs at California, including at wealthy Silicon Valley “tech people” who have embraced wellness practices such as meditation and special diets in order to live longer. “Wellness to me is a greediness,” she says, her Jewishness bubbling to the surface. “It’s not enough for me that I’m not sick. I have to be well.”

However much she finds California inferior to New York, Lebowitz, 71, will appear at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre for six, 90-minute, in-person conversations from Jan. 21 to 26. San Francisco filmmaker Peter Stein will moderate the final conversation on Jan. 26. Stein, who recently appeared on “Jeopardy!” and whose latest documentary is “Moving San Francisco,” compared Lebowitz to early 20th-century humorist Will Rogers “if Will Rogers were a dyspeptic, chain-smoking, New York Jewish woman with an attitude.” He continued in an email to J.: “I love how she can, with utter self-assurance, issue a grand condemnation of some execrable aspect of American politics or culture, and then tie it up with such a festive ribbon of verbal wit that, for a moment, you forget just how troubling our world really is.”

Fran Lebowitz. Jan. 21 to 26, various times, at Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. $37-$80. Proof of vaccination and masks required. 

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.