April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Newark Native at Tanglewood

Although the day was overcast and the rain held off until after the concert ended, the nice Jewish boy from Newark, Jason Alexan­der, took Tanglewood by storm when perform­ing with the Boston Pops’ presentation of The American Song Book.

The Song Book could be a lesson in the contributions of immigrants to America’s rich diversity. America always was the land of im­migrants (even the indigenous people of the Plains moved from place to place, following the Buffalo migrations). Together with the new­er immigrants, they cultivated the land and created industry. They not only made Ameri­ca great, they made it sing and dance. And no­where is there more singing and dancing go­ing on in a natural setting than in the beautiful Berkshires.

Jason Alexander, aka Jason Scott Greenspan, was born in Newark on September 23, 1959 to Ruth and Alex Greenspan. He was raised in Livingston and by age five knew he wanted a life on stage. He adopted the name Jason Alexander while still in high school, and is most famous for playing the miserly misan­thrope, George Costanza, on Seinfeld.

What does it take to get to the stage of the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood? Plen­ty of talent; plus practice, planning, and perse­verance. Alexander convinced his parents to give him voice lessons, ostensibly for his Bar Mitzvah. It turned out to be a great investment. A 1977 graduate of Livingston High School, he attended Boston University and within a cou­ple of years landed parts in a film and a made-for-television movie, and the lead role in a Ste­phen Sondheim musical. In 1989, he received a Tony for his role in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and has won many other awards.

The successful actor then moved to Los An­geles to work on Seinfeld. The remarkable se­ries remained highly popular throughout its 1990–1998 run. It continues, through re-runs, to be a crowd pleaser. Although Alexander presumably could have retired when Sein­feld ended, he kept working for both love and money. He has a wife and two children to sup­port, as well as a host of charities he favors. The television star continues to perform, direct, and produce. In 2003 he starred in the Los Angeles production of Mel Brooks’ very popular musi­cal, The Producers.

But Tanglewood? Why not? Tanglewood is not nearly as stodgy as some imagine a famed center of classical music to be. Tanglewood is the very model of diversity, bound together by the arts and nature, both of which speak a universal language and brook no artificial bor­ders. The students and teachers at the world-renowned Tanglewood Institute are an array of races, ethnicities, and faiths, as is the audi­ence on any given day or evening. People of all ages, all walks of life and musical tastes gather to make or hear music.

The annual Boston Pops concert there draws huge crowds. It has hosted The Beach Boys and Sinatra, and James Taylor, who re­sides in Stockbridge, is a fixture.

Tanglewood is an interesting piece of Americana, set in the Berkshires, where farms and mill towns thrived and where wealthy, Gilded Age industrialists built summer “cottages.” The ratio of help to guests was a whopping 17:1 on these mag­nificent estates. Many of the mansions have become resorts, spas, and grand ho­tels. The Berkshires is also where the cre­ative arts thrive, and Jason Alexander is a creative man.

A Sunday afternoon concert in early July had the Boston Pops Orchestra, playing the music from the American Song Book. Alex­ander entertained the audience with rendi­tions from Merrily We Roll Along, as well as other songs and banter. “An Inappropriate Medley,” referencing the American Song­book, was Jason’s clever comic contribu­tion. He closed with a very touching perfor­mance of a song by William Finn, “Anytime (I am There)” as a tribute to his father Alex and introduced it by telling the audience that as 91-year-old Alex Greenspan lay dy­ing, his last words to his son were, “See you around.”

Jason Alexander thinks his father is see­ing him. Surely, Mr. Greenspan must be kvelling. He and his wife raised a mensch, a family man and a man of the world. Their son makes a good living by doing good. Ja­son Scott Alexander makes people thought­ful and happy while getting paid, in both cash and applause. He even has an honor­ary doctorate from his alma mater. What more could a Jewish father want?

By Barbara Wind

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