Hear ye, hear ye, the King hereby invites all the inhabitants of the city of Shushan to a royal feast to be held at the King’s Royal Palace! Hear ye, hear ye…
Ahhh…nostalgia. This time, let’s go super-old-school, with Sruly Greenwald’s timeless classic, The Purim Story. For those of us who came of age in the ‘90s, the emergence of the iconic plastic clamshell case for the double-cassette album was a sure sign of the arrival of Purim season. Even better, some of us were able to convince our rebbeim that the tape was “educational”, so we were allowed to listen to it during class!
For those of you who haven’t heard it before, The Purim Story is a whimsical retelling of the story of Megillas Esther which basically follows the Gemara from the first perek of Masechta Megillah. The characters in the album are your usual suspects: Achashveirosh, the unsteady king worried about the possible rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash; Haman, with the obligatory swarthy, exaggerated British accent; Mordechai, the soft-spoken rabbi who gently exhorts his people to do teshuva; Vashti, the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil queen (who is literally accompanied by the “Wicked Witch of the West” theme from The Wizard of Oz), and Esther, who sounds like a Beis Yaakov graduate.
Two characters named Shaul and Nutti are constant fixtures in the story, helping us keep track of the general attitude of the Jewish people at the time. Shaul (voiced by someone who sounds like Yogi Bear) is the skeptic—challenging Mordechai when he tells the Jews not to attend the feast, making friends with Haman at the feast, and ignoring all signs of danger until it is nearly too late. Nutti is Shaul’s more timid buddy, who goes with Shaul to the feast in the beginning but eventually is the one who convinces Shaul to do teshuva after Haman’s decree of genocide is issued.
In addition, we are treated to the episode of Bigson and Seresh’s assassination attempt on King Achashveirosh. Seresh is portrayed as the brains behind the plot, while Bigson (who sounds like he is voiced by Goofy) is the bumbling idiot who provides us with one of the best excuse lines of all time:
ACHASHVEIRIOSH: Bigson and Seresh! This demands an explanation! What is this snake doing in my water????
SERESH: Uhhhh…well, you see, uhhhh….
BIGSON: Um, I think it’s doing the backstroke, Your Majesty!
While the album is definitely on the funny side, there are also some scary moments. My kids were freaked out by the Vashti scene and by the lottery scene, where Haman and his son try to find a date for the Jews’ destruction but keep getting interrupted by a “bas kol” (appropriately played by someone with a high-pitched voice—kol demamah dakah, right?).
The Purim Story is chock full of puns, inside jokes, and anachronisms:
HAMAN: The Pur isn’t working!
SHIMSHI: Do you still have the warranty?
HAMAN: A toast, to the destruction of the Jews! (Sound of a toaster timer popping up)
ACHASHVEIROSH: Light or dark?
HAMAN: I like mine dark, Your Majesty. (Crunching noises)
NARRATOR (Superman music in the background): …but he was stopped by Hadassah, the daughter of Avichayil, who, disguised as Queen Esther, mild-mannered queen of the great Persian Empire, fought a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the Torah way!
There are other, more subtle jokes as well. As Haman begins his pitch to Achashveirosh about why a “certain nation” should be destroyed, you can hear Darth Vader’s breath in the background.
There are a few songs on the album as well. “Esther My Child” is a slow, loving song sung by Mordechai as Esther is being taken to the palace; “We Can Do Teshuva” is sung by Nutti and the rest of the Jews after the decree is publicized, and “The Gallows Song” is a quick, jazzy number performed by Haman’s family as they are building the gallows. All of them are your typical late-‘80s-early-‘90s productions (i.e.: auto-tune hadn’t been invented yet), but that’s fine—the songs aren’t bad at all, and you’re not listening to this album for the music anyway.
Overall, it’s downright amazing how well The Purim Story holds up after all this time. Re-listening to this album made my childhood come back to me. Everything—from the voices of the kings guards (“We’re here…to do…the will of the king!!!!!!!!) to Haman’s ridiculous obeisance to Achachveirosh (“Your Excellency…Your Brilliancy….Your Marvelous-ency!”)—brings back great memories. It should be considered an essential part of your Purim collection for anyone with kids (10 and older) or if anyone 30 and older wants to relive their childhood.