2018-05-23 / Home

Jason Alexander sets the stage for his June 6 performance


JASON ALEXANDER… headline the Jewish Community Campus’ 20th Anniversary Celebration. JASON ALEXANDER… headline the Jewish Community Campus’ 20th Anniversary Celebration. Years before a “television show about nothing” introduced the world to “close talkers,” “low talkers,” “yadda, yadda, yadda,” and— of course—the holiday of Festivus, Jason Alexander was an up-and-coming Broadway performer.

The New Jersey native made his mark sharing the stage with the likes of Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli. Then, in 1989, the same year he won a Tony Award for his role in “Jerome Robbins Broadway,” Alexander was cast as George Costanza, one of the greatest TV sidekicks of all time.

In the two decades since Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer were left languishing together in a prison cell in Seinfeld’s 1998 aptly named last episode, “The Finale,” Alexander has further branched out. His renaissance career on stage, screen and even in print has included turns as a producer, director, stand-up comedian, singer, writer/librettist and composer/ lyricist. He has earned acclaim for a children’s book, “Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy?” and for magic performances. His skills in the semi-pro poker scene and as a champion of social/political causes are worth more than a mention as well.

In other words, when Alexander takes the Katz JCC stage for “As Long as You’re Asking: An Evening of Comedy, Music and Conversation” on Wednesday, June 6 at 7 p.m., there is much ground to cover. And the show could go in any number of directions— depending upon the tastes and whims of the crowd, Alexander explained. The audience will be asked to choose a dozen or so topics among 30 Alexander offers— from comedy, music, a Seinfeld Q&A, his relationship with Judaism, and more—to set the agenda for the night dedicated to celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Weinberg Jewish Community Campus.

And sorry, no, there is no set format that will guarantee maximum entertainment value. This Voice reporter already tried that line of questioning during a recent phone conversation with Alexander.

“Everyone has tried to crack that puzzle,” he said, chuckling. “Some of the topics are more blatantly entertaining. There is a little music and a performance piece. I’ve been told that even the somewhat more serious topics are entertaining too. There is something kind of fun about letting a group of people determine what they want to talk about.”

The list, he explained, has been culled from recurring topics that have piqued interest and won over audiences in past performances, he said, noting that he has traveled the nation with this show some 30 to 40 times. It was particularly well received during a benefit show earlier this year for Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, FL, where his 98- year-old mother is a member.

Asked the frequency that Seinfeld questions top the request list, he stated: “You’d be surprised!”

“I have done entire evenings when none of the Seinfeld questions have come up, and they’re amazing evenings,” he quipped. “No, I don’t really mind. That’s why they are on the list. Still, I’m always surprised when it doesn’t come up.”

Born Jason Greenspan and raised in a Jewish household, Alexander, 58, started acting in his tween years after moving to Livingston from Newark and hitting it off with the thespian crowd at his new school.

He made his Broadway debut in 1981 in Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” a flop at the time that has since gained popularity in revivals. Around the same time, “Pretty Woman” hit the big screen, with Alexander’s role as a lecherous lawyer establishing his forte as a sidekick, the sleeper TV show “Seinfeld” started hitting its stride.

Alexander notes that the show’s nine-year run was not just a career climax; it was one of the highlights of his life.

“One of the things generally people want to know is if we were really having that good a time, because it seems like we are really having a great time. And the answer is ‘yes.’ You can’t fake that,” he said. “We would come in every day and laugh and laugh for nine years.”

He noted that people are often surprised, even saddened, to find out that such a strong relationship did not transcend into their personal lives.

“We don’t get together every weekend and have dinner,” he noted. “We’re not constantly texting each other and telling each other about our days. We were incredibly good work friends and we all just looked forward to coming to work every day. (When the show ended), for the most part, we said goodbye to each other. And when we do see each other, it’s good fun. We fall right back into the relationship we had.”

Asked about his own favorite episodes or insight into classic Seinfeld moments, he demurred.

“That one could come up in the show,” he noted.

The Voice did get his views on why Jews are so heavily represented in the field of comedy.

“Not to make broad generalities, but let’s make broad generalities,” he said. “As a people, we revere education, and so most Jewish people are educated. So they’re smart. Smart people often have lots of tools at their disposal to create a sense of humor.”

Another gift of Judaism, he noted, is the perceived relationship between the Jewish people and God.

“With this notion that we are particularly blessed by God and favored by God, it gives us a comfort level to say that God made us silly,” Alexander said. “We are not God; we are fallible human creatures and isn’t that kind of funny? With that general attitude and with our sechel, our smarts, we know how to use the tools of comedy via language or observation, so we tend to have a good sense of humor.”

The JCC leadership has harnessed that sechel in bringing Alexander in celebration of the Campus’ opening 20 years ago. As 20th Anniversary Committee Chair Donna Bell noted, Seinfeld was one of the most popular TV shows, and rabidly so among South Jersey Jews, when the much-anticipated campus opened.

“A generation of people watched the show in the ’90s and loved it, and the reruns appeal to a whole new generation,” Bell noted. “That’s what our campus serves, from generation to generation. We invite the entire community to enjoy this show on June 6. I know everyone is going to walk out smiling.”

General admission tickets are available for the performance, and sponsor tickets include the performance as well as an exclusive meet-and-greet reception with Alexander.

Tickets are available for purchase at katzjcc.org or by contacting Nancy Caporusso at ncaporusso@jfedsnj.org. 

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