By Yossi Zweig
Photos by: PhotoDynamics
Last night was my second time in the famed Beacon Theatre. I was there for the Yaakov Shwekey: Back to the Beacon show. There is just something very magical about the Beacon Theatre and the show last night. I don’t quite know if it was the theatre itself, the 50 piece symphonic Orchestra or the performances by all of the artists last night, Yaakov Shwekey included.
The night started off with the lights dimming and the voice of Jewish radio, Nachum Segal, as we have heard him many times before. “Tonight is a very special night,” Nachum says. “Yaakov Shwekey Returns to the Beacon from Caesaria and you folks are really in for a treat”. And so we were. The show kicked off with an overture featuring some of the most well know Shwekey songs around. With the lights dimmed low and the sounds of the 50 piece symphonic orchestra conducted by the one and only Yochi Briskman echoing through the room, the audience was transported to a place beyond words. When the last chords slowly died down, the applause was thunderous.
Nachum Segal then returned to the stage. Nachum said that even though we were there to have a good time, we should remember the causes we were there to help. A moving video was then showed of the Special Children’s Center with the soundtrack of Yaakov’s Forever song composed by Yitzy Waldner. Just seeing how much the Special Children’s Center has accomplished with programs, summer camps and more makes me proud to be Jewish.
Nachum’s voice is back on the sound system. “You came to see him and here he is, the one and only YAAKOV SHWEKEY”. Yaakov dances on stage singing Areivim, the opening track from his Ad Bli Dai album and the Beacon erupts in cheers. The music and energy of this first song was only the beginning of this amazing program we were about to witness.
After Areivim, Yaakov thanks Yudi Zuller the production coordinator, whom without; none of this would be possible. “Yudi is a real Baal chessed,” Yaakov says. “I met him a few years back at a concert we did together in Staten Island for the Israel Solidarity Fund. Yudi told me after the concert that he was flying to Israel the very next day to hand over the funds raised by the event to terror victims in Gaza. After hearing that, I had to get involved with Yudi”.
Shwekey then announces that his next selection will be Boee Beshalom from his Libi Bamizrach album. Yaakov dedicates the song to a new chosson and kallah that got engaged at the show right before the song. This song is truly a jewel. Violins, harps, brass, it all comes together and transcends to just something else.
As the orchestra starts up the next song, the Shira Chadasha Boys Choir starts walking on stage, joining Yaakov for Ben Bag Bag. I have heard these kids many times and am a big fan of their albums. Watching them live with the choreography and their vocals, it a shame they don’t live in NY and we can’t see them often. The amazing vocals by Shira Chadasha were perfect with Yaakov’s for this number. It’s a fun song with lots of back and forth between Yaakov and the choir. Nachman Seltzer the choirmaster joined on stage to lead the choir. You have to keep in mind that Shira Chadasha and Yaakov just performed together in France, England and Israel so they are at ease and work very well together. When the song was finished people in the audience gave them a standing ovation.
Nine year old Ethan Bortnick was next. All alone on this huge stage, with a 50 piece symphonic orchestra, he thanked the audience for coming out for such a good cause. Ethan said he was going to start with a classical piece by Chopin. Now I have seen Ethan online a few times but never in person. What he does is very hard to describe. People use the word prodigy very loosely today, but that is EXACTLY what he is. Watching his hands fly across the keys and hearing the melody that is coming out of that piano left people spellbound. Bortnick then said he would play one more classic piece Alla Turka by Mozart. I glanced away from Ethan for a few minutes and scanned the orchestra. The musicians in the orchestra, each one a professional in their own right with years of experience under their belt, were awestruck but this nine year old prodigy.
As Ethan is finishing Alla Turka, Yochi nods and gives Ethan the signal to begin playing the introduction to Shema Yisroel. Yaakov returns to the stage to sing Shma Yisroel with Ethan at the piano. Shwekey even has Bortnick sing with him. When the music dies down the crowd bursts into applause. Yaakov tells of how he met Ethan earlier in the year in Brazil and they did a show together. Shwekey tells Bortnick that he has a tremendous talent and Hashem should bless him with much success.
Yaakov asks the audience if there are any Sephardic people in the crowd. They answer back an enthusiastic yes. Shwekey then tells of his conversation with famed composer Yitzy Waldner. “I told Yitzy, I know you’re Ashkenazi but I need a real Sephardic song”. What Yitzy Waldner did with these words was exactly what I was looking for”. Libi B’Mizrach is a crowd favorite and people were just enjoying the music from the orchestra.
Baruch Levine joins Yaakov on stage for the next song. They are going to perform the NEW song from the Back2Caesaria DVD/CD composed by Baruch Levine called Refuah Shelaima. Shwekey dedicates this song to all of the sick in am yisrael and some of his relatives. Now this song from the Caesaria show really blew me away. The composition is really gorgeous. The song, arranged by Yanky Briskman (playing the drums in the orchestra tonight) is really amazing. Here’s the kicker. It sounds EXACTLY as good as it does in the CD/DVD if not better. Baruch and Yaakov’s voice flow together so well and complement each other so well. I would like to think that by the end of this song there wasn’t a dry eye in the Beacon.
It was time to have some fun. The orchestra started up and Yaakov said that we better join in. The song was Veshochanti, or better known as Nu Nu Nu. This is one of my kids’ favorite songs from Yaakov’s Ad Bli Dai album. If you think a 50 piece symphonic orchestra only enhances slow songs, this song proves it works for fast ones as well.
Nachum Segal walked back on stage. “We have a surprise for you tonight,” said Nachum. “All the way from Israel, world renowned pianist Uri Brenner is here and he is going to play a very special rendition of Shwekey’s Meheira. I have never heard of Uri, not that I am that into classical music or professional pianists. Uri was quite simple amazing. He took a very well known song Meheira and transformed it to jazz, pop and I don’t even know how many other types of music. As his digits flew across the ivory keys, one couldn’t help but smile in pure joy with the music that was created. It truly added another dimension to the evening.
Next was a touching video about Gilad Shalit. It’s been 4.5 years with still no release. Yudi Zuller, production coordinator who also heads the Israel Solidarity Fund, sat and interviewed Gilad’s father and mother. This of course was one of the charities that were part of the evening. Bringing Gilad home is definitely at the forefront for every Jew.
Shwekey was back! It was time for more sephardic material from the Libi B’Mizrach album and Yaakov came back with Chabibi which was composed by Yitzy Waldner & Yaakov himself. Sephardic or not I think everyone in the audience loved this song and the energy Yaakov brought to it.
The next selection was a world famous composition from Yochanan Shapiro, Im Eshkocheich. The Shira Chadasha Boys Choir joins Yaakov on stage again in costume for this special number. There is just something about the purity of the vocals of the children in the choir with this haunting melody and Yaakov’s vocals that tugs at your heart strings. Again as the song died down the applause was thunderous.
Everyone was wondering when the YouTube stars, the YU Maccabeats, would be appearing and what they would be performing. Well the wondering was over. The 12 members of the famed acapella group approached the stage in suits and ties. Lining up on center stage the raised their microphones as one. “Moshe uvenai yisrael, lecha anu shira, besimcha raba veamru chulom” they all sang as one. The song of course, the wildly popular Rau Banim, composed by the talented Yonatan Razel. The harmonies and vocal blending that this group performed, left the audience awestruck. Maccabeats member Ari Lewis sang the chorus while the rest of the Maccabeats sang the harmony and musical pieces. After a few minutes the music kicked up and Yaakov Shwekey returned to the stage to perform with the Maccabeats. The Beacon was on fire. Even after the song was done, Yaakov and the Maccabeats went back at the song vocally without the orchestra and they were phenomenal.
Now the only performer who wasn’t seen on stage was the one and only Chazzan Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. Helfgot joined Shwekey onstage to perform a Yossele Rosenblatt classic, Hamavdil. Now I am not a big fan of chazzonus, but this was something really special. Yitzchak Meir’s voice is BIGGER than life and Yaakov’s voice can reach some really high notes. The two of them together were quite the performance to behold.
The next selection was the second NEW song featured on the Back2Caesaria CD/DVD. The song is Kol Mevasser and composed by Yitzy Waldner. I don’t know how Yochi did it, but the two new songs he has are both amazing in their own right. People across the globe love these selections.
Was that it? No more guest performers? Ethan Bortnick returned to the stage and took his place at the grand piano. When he started playing “Twinkle, Twinkle”, I knew what was coming. Sure enough when Baruch Levine joined him a minute later me guess was confirmed when Baruch started singing Piano Boy. The two of them together on stage for this song was truly bringing the song to life in another form. When they were approaching the chorus Yaakov joined them on stage and they completed the song as such. It was truly something to behold.
When the band started playing Ma Ma Ma, you could tell that the show was winding down. Yaakov seems to always end his shows with this wildly popular hit. When the Shira Chadasha Boys Choir with Nachman Seltzer joined Yaakov on stage you knew the song was going to a whole other place. These kids are so talented. Their voices and dancing just made the song so much more.
Nachum Segal returned to the stage one last time to thanks everyone for coming out and showing support for those charities involved in the show. “How do you end a show like this,” asked Nachum? You call out each performer/group and introduce them to the audience. Last came Yaakov Shwekey and the last song in the show finally was my all-time favorite song Vehi Sheomdoh composed by Yonatan Razel. The entire cast singing pieces of this heartwarming song truly was the best way to end the show. Until Caesaria returns to the Beacon again we will all be waiting for the magic to return to New York.