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A new Minnesota musical celebrates Jewish immigrants
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The musical Mishegass is the latest effort from Minnesota composer Joe Vass. It chronicles the lives of Jewish immigrants and their experiences becoming Americans. (Courtesy Joseph Vass)
Jews in Minnesota are celebrating a double anniversary. It's the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in America and the 150th anniversary of the first to arrive in Minnesota. Minnesota playwright Joe Vass chronicles the experience of the immigrants in his latest work. The musical uses the Yiddish word for craziness, "Mishegass," as its title.

St. Cloud, Minn. — Mishegass covers a lot of ground and a lot of stories.

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Image Joe at the piano

But it started with just one song.

Joe Vass wrote the tune for his band, Klezmerica, a Twin Cities based Klezmer group. The song "You Can Hire Meyer" was based on the true life-story of Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky.

"He was actually quite a vicious criminal and not very funny," according to Vass. "In real life he would observe the Jewish religion in a very limited way. He tried to rest on Shabbos, and that gave me the idea for this song 'You Can Hire Meyer.'"

It's a funny song. Vass then tried to write a song about the Three Stooges. It turned into a touching song about the love between warring siblings.

Vass kept composing. He wrote more songs about Jewish Americans and their experience in the U.S., and soon he had an entire musical.

The show features biographical songs about Albert Einstein and major league baseball star turned World War II spy Moe Berg, among others.

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Image The cast of Mishegass

In the show, Vass ties songs together with a sometimes educational, sometimes comical script performed by the Actors Theater of Minnesota.

Peter Moore, the director of Mishegass, says there are plenty of funny moments in the show, but the show has substance.

"Its subject matter, the Jewish experience in America, it automatically has substance. I think Joe has written it from a very personal point of view. I think it's very heartfelt and very moving and very powerful,"

Moore worked with composer Joe Vass on his last show, Gershwin the Klezmer.

Like that show, Vass say Mishegass might go on the road after its Twin Cities run.

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