The Cantor Of Cabaret


Rebecca Joy Fletcher is a messenger of the lost world of European Jewish cabaret.

In her hands, it’s an electric art form brought to life, with traces of German operetta, jazz and Tin Pan Alley, and lyrics that are full of irony, wit and emotions that turn on a dime.

This month, she’ll be presenting her one-woman show “Cities of Light” in two Manhattan venues, belting out cabaret tunes from between the world wars in Paris, Berlin and Warsaw, and Tel Aviv in the years before the State of Israel’s founding.

“I have a very mysterious affinity for and understanding of the material,” she says in an interview. Fletcher explains that while in her final year of cantorial school at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, she stumbled upon a set of CDs of German cabaret music. Listening to the music, she had a sense of déjà vu unlike anything she had experienced. It was as though she knew these songs and their rhythms, even as she was hearing them for the first time.

Artists don’t get that profound sense of connection often, so she listened closely. She began researching German archival material, turning to other cultures as well, and found a dominance of Jewish artists, designers and musicians in the cabaret world.

In some cases, she uncovered sheet music, sometimes only a melody line. Fletcher reworked the songs, writing English lyrics and making the social commentary relevant while keeping the song’s core intact.

Her goal was “to have the music speak to audiences now as it did then — to pop for an ear today.”

For the show, she takes on the role of a singer who moved from place to place — this was an art form easily transported and reinvented. Creating an intimate setting characteristic of European cabaret, she stylishly showcases the music and the vibrant urban Jewish life and yearning it recalled.

Fletcher has been acting and singing for much of her life, beginning as a child actress with the Santa Monica Playhouse. Her family moved to Israel and then New York City, where she attended Ramaz for high school. After graduating from Brown, she moved back to Israel and, with training, began coming into her own as an adult on stage.

Returning to Manhattan, she attended cantorial school as a way to connect her religious and artistic lives. Then, she began discovering Jewish music in its variety. Her first show, “Kleynkunst!” about Warsaw’s Yiddish-language cabarets, played Off-Broadway in 2007.

“Cities of Light” premiered in 2009 at the State Yiddish Theater in Warsaw. Fletcher returns to New York, after performances in Europe, Israel and around the United States, where she’s been praised as a riveting performer, with compelling artistry, and “a sexy and insouciant manner.” Exuberant in conversation, she‘s the kind of performer who loves to linger with audiences after the final curtain.

Fletcher is performing Dec. 12 at 7 p.m., at the Metropolitan Room (34 W. 22nd St., [212] 206-0440, and on Dec. 24 at Cornelia Street Café (29 Cornelia St. [212] 989 9319,