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Bikel Mixes Many Talents With Cosmopolitan Themes

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Early on in his program at the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium Sunday, Theodore Bikel joked, “I hope that all of you went to adult Yiddish classes before coming here.” Not to worry. Even though the multilingual Bikel sings in a pastiche of languages, including Yiddish, his universally humanistic message requires no translation.

Now in his early 70s, Bikel remains a strikingly fit and vigorous man, with a magnificent baritone untouched by time. In a generous two-hours-plus performance, Bikel certainly doesn’t stint on using that voice, either, even with an evening performance still pending. A talented guitarist, Bikel is accompanied by longtime pianist Jonathan Irving, who backs Bikel with accomplished ease.

Born in Vienna, Bikel fled to Palestine during Hitler’s Reich and was subsequently educated in London. A lifelong political activist, Bikel delivers a first act bristling with protest songs, including what sounds like a 1960s vintage antiwar song, and a 400-year-old German song decrying the forced labor of German peasants during the Thirty Years’ War. But make no mistake. There’s much humor in the blend, and Bikel presents his diverse selections with a wryness both urbane and earthy.

A stalwart of stage and screen for decades, Bikel is as much a folklorist as he is a performer. During his travels, Bikel has “collected” a wildly eclectic cross-section of music from different cultures. At times, this particular concert seems a bit far-flung and thematically desultory. However, with a bill that ranges from a calypso blues number to a song by Sting, who could really complain?

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* Theodore Bikel, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive. Today only, 8 p.m. $20-$25. (310) 476-9777, Ext. 201. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.


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