Thursday December 20, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Sean Altman’s latest show may not be kosher, but it has been blessed by rabbis and approved by audiences in Israel.

That’s good enough for me.

Altman, singer, composer and musical force behind the a cappella super group Rockapella, returns to Brattleboro with his show "Jewmongous!" -- a night of satirical, irreverent, occasionally risqué comedy songs poking good-natured fun at his Jewish heritage.

Backed by a percussionist and joined by guest singer Cynthia Kaplan, Altman will perform "Jewmongous!" on Thursday, Dec. 27, at 7:30 p.m., at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St.

"I’m a career songwriter. ‘Jewmongous!’ is my way of connecting with my Jewish heritage that has nothing to do with me going to synagogue," said Altman in a phone interview Monday morning. "I don’t think I’m ever skewering my people. I poke gentle fun at some of the customs, but it’s never self-loathing. It’s never confrontational toward the religion. This is me trying to explain my Jewish roots in a way that allows me to remain secular."

Whatever it is, Altman has managed to walk the line, making audiences laugh without touching off any international incidents or being disowned.

"Even Orthodox Jews who come to explore my show appreciate it," he said. "Part of being a Jew is questioning. ... I like to think I’m doing that."

He’s performed more than two dozen times in Israel and is, apparently, a darling, of the Israeli folk festival scene.

His website, www.jewmongous.com, contains six endorsements from actual rabbis, including Rabbi Brian of Religion-Outside-The-Box (rotb.org), who wrote, "This rabbi is very proud of Sean Altman. Jewmongous is the kind of kosher that we should all rock to."

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in Manhattan where Altman recently performed to a sold-out house, added "Jewmongous is funny ‘til it hurts. Sean dishes out an irreverent, sometimes vulgar, but always illuminating view of American Jewish life. While his humor cuts to the bone, Altman’s pride in the tribe is always evident, and he is also a world-class Mensch. Listen and weep. And love it!"

Even people who aren’t Jewish enjoy the show, Altman said. Audiences in Brattleboro loved "Jewmongous!" when he brought it here in 2010.

Now, he’s back, armed with new songs, penned in a style that reveals a "shameless guitar pop influence," according to Altman who cites The Beatles as a major muse.

There are songs in bubble gum pop, Middle Eastern, and klezmer styles. There’s even an Irish-style drinking song Altman wrote because he felt his people needed one.

"The reason the Irish have more fun is that they have good drinking songs," he said.

There’s a new song titled "Jesus Christ’s Bar Mitzvah," and a tribute to the hora based on a current super-popular hit song.

"It’s basically a love song to the hora, inspired by ‘Gangnam Style.’ Even if ‘Gangnam Style’ has a billion hits on YouTube, it’s never going to have the staying power of the hora," Altman said.

In the six years since "Jewmongous!" debuted, Altman has wowed crowds in more than two dozen major U.S. cities and elsewhere around the world. Beyond that, it has given helped achieve what he set out to when he wrote it -- a closer connection to his people.

"I want to be part of the team. This makes me part of the team. This is my Get Out of Jail Free Card. This allows me to be a contributing member of Jewish society, but I never have to go to synagogue," he said. "I do have such a tremendous respect for what my people, in their tiny, tiny numbers, have accomplished."

Altman has accomplished a fair amount in a music career that has run three decades. He is perhaps best known for penning and performing the theme song for the PBS TV series "Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?" in which Altman and Rockapella starred. "Carmen" won numerous Emmys and a coveted Peabody Award while attracting a viewership of 20 million. Altman’s career continued from there -- nine CD releases, eight tours of Japan, concerts with Sting and Don Henley, TV specials with Jay Leno and Whoopi Goldberg and numerous commercials.

Now, with "Jewmongous!" Altman has earned comparisons to other Jewish artists whose work melds comedy, satire, music and social commentary. The Philadelphia Daily News dubbed Altman and the show "wildly funny ... part of a new breed of Jewish hipster comedy that includes Jon Stewart, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman and Heeb Magazine."

"I’ve always been accused of not being hip enough. What’s less hip than being in an a cappella group?" he said. "So many of the country’s top comedians have been Jewish it’s hard to separate Jewish comedy. Jewish comedy is essentially American comedy."

The Jewmongous! road show stops in Brattleboro immediately following dates at Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass., and City Winery in Manhattan. Altman is glad to be returning to the area, where his good friend and longtime collaborator Billy Straus lives. Altman brought his group the Groove Barbers to Brattleboro for an appearance in one of the popular Collegiate A Cappella Concerts.

"I love the area," he said.

"Jewmongous!" runs approximately 90 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $18 online at www.brownpapertickets.com or In The Moment Records on Main Street. "Jewmongous!" comes with a parental advisory: "Due to adult themes and language, ‘Jewmongous!’ is not recommended for children under 13, unless you’re raising them to be sailors."

Altman will have his CD "Taller Than Jesus" and other recordings for sale.

For more information, visit www.jewmongous.com.