Eleanor Reissa

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Eleanor Reissa
Alma materBrooklyn College
OccupationActress, director, playwright

Eleanor Reissa is an American actress, singer, theatre director, playwright, librettist, choreographer, translator, and author based in New York City. She works and performs in English and Yiddish speaking stages, and also interprets and performs Yiddish theatre and songs.

Background and Education[edit]

Eleanor Reissa was born in Brooklyn, New York. However, her parents were born in Poland. During WW2, they were both placed in German ghettos established in occupied Poland, and fought and lived through the Holocaust. In America, they were both considered sweatshop workers. Hence, Reissa studied in the New York City public school system and received her Bachelor of Arts in Speech and Theatre at Brooklyn College, graduating cum laude.[1]

Directing and acting[edit]

Reissa's directing debut in Broadway garnered her a Tony Award nomination for Those Were the Days, which she also choreographed and starred in. Other New York directing credits include: Cowgirls (1995 Outer Critics Circle Award nomination), Echoes of the War (2005 Drama Desk Award nomination),[2] and The Soldier's Wife (two 2006 Drama Desk Award nominations).[3] In Yiddish, her New York directing credits include: Got Fun Nekome (God of Vengeance), Hershele Ostropolyer (adapted by Reissa), Zise Khaloymes (based on her English language play, Sweet Dreams), and Yoshke Muzikant: The Klezmer’s Tale. Furthermore, she was artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene for five years.[4]

On Broadway, she was in the cast of Paula Vogel's Indecent, and was nominated for a Tony Award as the director of the musical Those Were the Days (which she also choreographed and starred in).[5]

In April 2019, Reissa directed, co-created and featured as a vocalist in From Shtetl to Stage: A Celebration of Yiddish Music and Culture at Carnegie Hall.[6]

Music and recordings[edit]

Reissa has also sung in numerous American musicals in the theatre, including Tintypes, The Rise of David Levinsky, and Fiddler on the Roof.

Reissa's singing in Yiddish has earned her the title of the "Reigning Queen of Yiddish Cabaret".[7] Additionally, she has been featured in Pearls of Yiddish Song, Remember the Children, Going Home: Gems of Yiddish Song, Songs in the Key of Yiddish, and in 2015, Just Add Water (Eleanor Reissa and Di Boyess).[8]

She has collaborated with Frank London of the Klezmatics and the Klezmer Brass Allstars, to perform together internationally. Along with the Klezmatics, she recorded Vilde Mekhaye (Wild Ecstasy) in 2016. They have also performed in festivals and venues including Berlin, Toronto, Paris, Vienna, and in New York City at Joe's Pub and Feinstein's/54 Below.[9]

She and Frank London performed their program Kurt Weill in New York at the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, (Germany) featuring Anthony Coleman, Greg Cohen, and Billy Martin.[10]


For her playwriting, Reissa received the Dorothy Silver Playwriting Award for Wishful Thinking, and then was shortlisted as a finalist for her play, Thicker Than Water a few years later. Reissa's plays have been published in an anthology called The Last Survivor and other Modern Yiddish Plays. Her play, The Last Dinosaur, was listed as finalist for the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Heideman Award.[11]

Adaptations and Translations[edit]

Reissa was commissioned to adapt the story The Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer (also known as Hershel of Ostropol) as a musical for the National Yiddish Theatre, Folksbiene, where it was played for two consecutive seasons, starring Mike Burstyn. It was then performed in Israel at Yiddishpiel, the same location where it was nominated for the Israel Prize as well. After this, Reissa was also commissioned by Yiddishpiel to adapt the 1937 film, Yidl Mitn Fidl to a stage musical in 2014, where it has a successful run.

In 2019, Reissa also received a commission by the National Yiddish Theatre, Folksbiene to translate Paddy Chayevsky’s The Tenth Man, into Yiddish (with Harvey Varga), which was slated for the 2020 season with her as director.[12]

She also worked on the libretto for the opera Taibele and Her Demon, based on the short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, with composer, Judd Greenstein[13]

The Letters Project: A Daughter’s Journey[edit]

After the death of her mother, Reissa found letters sent by her father, a survivor of Auschwitz, in the late 1940s to her mother, a survivor of a slave labor camp in Uzbekistan.[14] She eventually had them translated and traveled to Germany, later writing The Letters Project: A Daughter’s Journey, which was published by Post Hill Press in 2022.[14][15]


Year Project Role Venue
1989 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Assistant Director Broadway
1991 Those Were the Days Director and Choreographer Broadway
1992 A Stranger Among Us Choreographer Sidney Lumet feature film
1994 All That Glitters Director Women's Project NYC
1995 Cowgirls Director and Choreographer Minetta Lane Theatre
1995 My Fair Lady Assistant Director Broadway
1996 The Last Supper Director Florida
1997 Nothing like a Dame Director Broadway
1998 Songs of Paradise Choreographer The Public Theater
1999 Avenue X Director and Choreographer Marin Theatre Company
2000 Over the Rainbow: Yip Harburg's America Director and Choreographer Prince Music Theater
2001 Diana of Dobson's Director Mint Theater
2001 Screams of Kitty Genovese Director O'Neill Festival
2001 Song of the Turtle Dove Director O'Neill Festival
2002 Out of Sterno Director Cherry Lane Theatre
2003 Syncopation Director and Choreographer Marin Theatre Company
2004 Echoes of the War Director Mint Theater
2005 The Skin Game (play) Director[16] Mint Theater
2006 Blood Drive Director O'Neill Festival
2006 Desperate Measures (musical) Director New York Musical Theatre Festival
2006 Soldier's Wife Director Mint Theater
2009 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (musical) Director White Plains Performing Arts Center
2010 Hershele Ostropolyer Director National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene
2013 The Threepenny Opera Director and Choreographer Colgate University
2014 The Scutley papers Director Workshop with Sally Field
2015 Yidl Mitn Fidl Director Yiddishpiel
2016 From Moses to Mostel Director The Town Hall
2016 God of Vengeance Director La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club
2019 Carnegie Hall's From Shtetl to Stage Director and co-creator Stern Auditorium

Theater acting (partial list)[edit]

Year Project Director
1978 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (play) Lee Sankowich
1982 Tintypes Larry Deckle
1983 Godspell Darwin Knight
1983 Songs of Paradise Avi Hoffman
1984 Isn't it Romantic Susan Rosenstock
1985 Bar Mitzvah Boy Robert Kalfin
1987 The Rise of David Levinsky Sue Lawless
1990 Those Were the Days Self
1998 Lost in Yonkers Peter Lawrence
2002 Yentl Robert Kalfin
2010 Soul Doctor Holly-Anne Ruggiero
2012 The Material World Stephan Brackett
2013 East Toward Home David Schecter
2016 God of Vengeance Eleanor Reissa
2017 Indecent Rebecca Taichman
2018 The Sisters Rosensweig Casey Stangel
2020 We All Fall Down Melia Bensussen

Film and television acting (partial list)[edit]

Year Project Director Movie/TV
1992 A Stranger Among Us Sidney Lumet Feature
1994 Limboland Lol Creme Comedy Central
2010 Calling it Quits Anthony Tarsitano Indie Feature
2011 Trophy Kids Josh Sugarman Indie Feature
2013 Unforgettable Jean de Segonzac CBS
2019 Minyan Eric Steel Indie Feature
2019 The Plot Against America Minkie Spiro HBO Miniseries

Music/recordings list[edit]

  • Pearls of Yiddish Song (1990)
  • Remember the Children (1991)
  • Going Home: Gems of Yiddish Song (1992)
  • Songs in the Key of Yiddish (2002)
  • Just Add Water with Di Boyess (2015)
  • Wild Ecstasy (Vilde Mekhaye)' with Frank London (2017)


  1. ^ "Reissa, Eleanor". Jewish Music WebCenter. Jewish Music WebCenter. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  2. ^ Murray, Matthew. "2005 Drama Desk Award Nominations Announced". Theatermania. Theatermania. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  3. ^ Portantiere, Michael. "2006 Drama Desk Award Nominees Announced at Friars Club". Theatermania. Theatermania. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  4. ^ "L'Chaim! Patinkin and Feldshuh Perform at Sold-Out June 11 Folksbiene Benefit". Playbill. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  5. ^ "Those Were the Days – Broadway Music – Original". IBDB. The Broadway League. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  6. ^ "Carnegie Hall Presents From Shtetl to Stage: A Celebration of Yiddish Music and Culture". Carnegie Hall. The Carnegie Hall Corporation. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  7. ^ Rogovoy, Seth. "Queen of Yiddish Cabaret Eleanor Reissa to Unveil New Trio at YIDSTOCK Festival". The Rogovoy Report. Seth Rogovoy. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  8. ^ "Eleanor Reissa Recordings". Eleanor Reissa. Eleanor Reissa. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  9. ^ "INDECENT's Eleanor Reissa to Join Klezmatics' Frank London in Concert at Feinstein's/54 Below". Broadway World. Wisdom Digital Media. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  10. ^ "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities: Frank London and Friends". The New York Public Library. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  11. ^ Reporter, MARGI HERWALD Staff. "Remembering her mother with 'Wishful Thinking'". Cleveland Jewish News. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  12. ^ "National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's THE TENTH MAN in Yiddish Sells Out". Broadway World. Wisdom Digital Media. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  13. ^ "Eleanor Reissa Biography". Broadway News. Wisdom Digital Media. Retrieved February 12, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Dresner, Stacey (June 28, 2022). "LETTERS FROM A 'HOLOCAUST FIGHTER'". Jewish Ledger. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  15. ^ Kupchinetsky, Victoria (January 31, 2022). "Holocaust-Era Letters Prompt Writer to Dive Into Family's History". VOA. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  16. ^ Rampell, Catherine (July 12, 2005). "Theater". The Village Voice. Retrieved August 6, 2022.

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