Purim Reviews, Part II: The Purim Story by Sruly Greenwald

CDs, General, Music — By on February 14, 2014 11:41 am

Hear ye, hear ye, the King hereby invites all the inhabitants of the city of Shushan to a royal feast to be held at the King’s Royal Palace! Hear ye, hear ye…

Ahhh…nostalgia.  This time, let’s go super-old-school, with Sruly Greenwald’s timeless classic, The Purim Story.  For those of us who came of age in the ‘90s, the emergence of the iconic plastic clamshell case for the double-cassette album was a sure sign of the arrival of Purim season.  Even better, some of us were able to convince our rebbeim that the tape was “educational”, so we were allowed to listen to it during class!

For those of you who haven’t heard it before, The Purim Story is a whimsical retelling of the story of Megillas Esther which basically follows the Gemara from the first perek of Masechta Megillah.  The characters in the album are your usual suspects: Achashveirosh, the unsteady king worried about the possible rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash; Haman, with the obligatory swarthy, exaggerated British accent; Mordechai, the soft-spoken rabbi who gently exhorts his people to do teshuva; Vashti, the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil queen (who is literally accompanied by the “Wicked Witch of the West” theme from The Wizard of Oz), and Esther, who sounds like a Beis Yaakov graduate.

Two characters named Shaul and Nutti are constant fixtures in the story, helping us keep track of the general attitude of the Jewish people at the time.  Shaul (voiced by someone who sounds like Yogi Bear) is the skeptic—challenging Mordechai when he tells the Jews not to attend the feast, making friends with Haman at the feast, and ignoring all signs of danger until it is nearly too late.  Nutti is Shaul’s more timid buddy, who goes with Shaul to the feast in the beginning but eventually is the one who convinces Shaul to do teshuva after Haman’s decree of genocide is issued.

In addition, we are treated to the episode of Bigson and Seresh’s assassination attempt on King Achashveirosh.  Seresh is portrayed as the brains behind the plot, while Bigson (who sounds like he is voiced by Goofy) is the bumbling idiot who provides us with one of the best excuse lines of all time:

ACHASHVEIRIOSH: Bigson and Seresh! This demands an explanation!  What is this snake doing in my water????

SERESH: Uhhhh…well, you see, uhhhh….

BIGSON: Um, I think it’s doing the backstroke, Your Majesty!

While the album is definitely on the funny side, there are also some scary moments.  My kids were freaked out by the Vashti scene and by the lottery scene, where Haman and his son try to find a date for the Jews’ destruction but keep getting interrupted by a “bas kol” (appropriately played by someone with a high-pitched voice—kol demamah dakah, right?).

The Purim Story is chock full of puns, inside jokes, and anachronisms:

HAMAN: The Pur isn’t working!

SHIMSHI: Do you still have the warranty?

And:

HAMAN: A toast, to the destruction of the Jews! (Sound of a toaster timer popping up)

ACHASHVEIROSH: Light or dark?

HAMAN: I like mine dark, Your Majesty. (Crunching noises)

And finally,

NARRATOR (Superman music in the background): …but he was stopped by Hadassah, the daughter of Avichayil, who, disguised as Queen Esther, mild-mannered queen of the great Persian Empire, fought a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the Torah way!

There are other, more subtle jokes as well.  As Haman begins his pitch to Achashveirosh about why a “certain nation” should be destroyed, you can hear Darth Vader’s breath in the background.

There are a few songs on the album as well.  “Esther My Child” is a slow, loving song sung by Mordechai as Esther is being taken to the palace; “We Can Do Teshuva” is sung by Nutti and the rest of the Jews after the decree is publicized, and “The Gallows Song” is a quick, jazzy number performed by Haman’s family as they are building the gallows.  All of them are your typical late-‘80s-early-‘90s productions (i.e.: auto-tune hadn’t been invented yet), but that’s fine—the songs aren’t bad at all, and you’re not listening to this album for the music anyway.

Overall, it’s downright amazing how well The Purim Story holds up after all this time.  Re-listening to this album made my childhood come back to me.  Everything—from the voices of the kings guards (“We’re here…to do…the will of the king!!!!!!!!) to Haman’s ridiculous obeisance to Achachveirosh (“Your Excellency…Your Brilliancy….Your Marvelous-ency!”)—brings back great memories.  It should be considered an essential part of your Purim collection for anyone with kids (10 and older) or if anyone 30 and older wants to relive their childhood.

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9 Comments

  1. OutOfTowner says:

    Shimon, as someone who sings on this Purim Story album I have to make a few corrections. First, the real producer of this and all Torahvision productions is Yosef Kirsch…an amazingly talented and humble man. Second, this was recorded in 1988-1989 and I watched some of the reel to reel tape being manually spliced! I was 12 years old and sing “we can do teshuva” with my brother (we recorded it about 6 or 7 times on different tracks so it sounds like a choir). I am very good friends with the engineer and he told me how R’ Yossi would read the script and go from voice to voice (basically having a conversation with himself) without any mistakes or missing a beat. Also, shoshanas yaakov at the end was recorded with a bunch of us singing “crowd style” in front of a few microphones. In the middle R’ Yossi started singing with funny voices and my brother and I kept laughing. We did a few retakes and each time we couldn’t hold in our laughter. Finally we all listened to how it sounded and the laughter fit in with the mood of the song and the yiddin being saved so they kept it. Amazing album (and for adults deep and accurate with medroshim)and still one of my kids favorites (and mine too)!

  2. Ari says:

    It was a staple of my childhood. I feel all nostalgic every time I think of it. I loved the rap they did when Homon goes out to the people. You can imagine them all bowing to the beat!
    And by the way, it WAS educational, with all the medroshim like the servant who was reading Achashverosh’s chronicles, Homon’s nephew, trying to skip the story out without the pages turning over (“and now the story of…Mmmordechai..sssaves…kkkKING??!!!”), and the malach disguised as a woodsman, chopping down Achashverosh’s tree in front his own eyes (“Look mister, will ya stop standing around as if you’re the king around here or somethin’!”).

    Brings back memories!

  3. Shimon Simpson says:

    @Ari

    It’s great. And it’s absolutely educational–when I learned the 1st Perek of Megillah, I would read the gemara in the voices from the album and drive my chavrusahs crazy :) …

  4. Shimon Simpson says:

    @OutOfTowner

    It’s funny, because while 2006 version of the album cover art credits Sruly Greenwald, the artist’s credits on MostlyMusic.com are listed as “Kirsch”–no first name, and there’s nothing else listed in his discography, so I had no idea who it was referring to.

  5. Muser says:

    This is my all-time favorite childhood storytape! My siblings and I memorized many parts of it, and sometimes we all have fun reciting it. Even today!

    I definitely knew many of those references you mentioned, but never caught the Darth Vader reference! Thanks for pointing it out! I never watched Star Wars, so that’s why I didn’t recognize it. Then again, I did watch The Wizard of Oz but didn’t notice the Wicked Witch theme until someone mentioned it. (Although that might be because I was too young to make connections like that . . .)

    Anyway, this is definitely an old classic that I’ll always love. Thanks for sending me on a pleasant trip down memory lane!

  6. Yankel says:

    Yes, this is R’ Yosef Kirsh from Cleveland.

    Also who can forget the “I grew up, on Torah A……” with the 613 Torah Avenue theme song in the background “…..nd Mitzvos!”

  7. the real Nutty says:

    All of my sons and daughters have aced their Purim tests in elementary school, high school, and Yeshiva thanks to this recording. I am a rebbe, and I have used this for teaching Megillah for years. This project was well planned and executed. A lot of thought and detail went into making this. (unfortunately, the Chanukah one is not nearly as good…but then, there is no megillah for Chanukah detailing the event.) For anyone who grew up in the late 70’s or early 80’s, there are numerous references and voices that are slipped in. See if you can find these:

    -President Richard Nixon
    -Yogi Bear and BooBoo
    -Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumly
    -Yippee, Yappy, and Yahooey
    -Darth Vader
    -613 Torah Avenue
    -the Banana Splits TV show
    -Wicked witch from Oz
    -The seven dwarfs
    -Casper the friendly ghost

    What else am I missing?

  8. Aryeh says:

    Agree with all the above, greatest purim tape out there! it was part of my childhood and I bought it for my kids too.
    Anyone know where I can get the Shimshon tape by the same producer? I would love to get it for my kids too.

  9. Thank you for the wonderful review.

    @OutOfTowner – not many know the finer details, thank you!

    @Shimon Simpson – Rabbi Kirsch produced the tapes along with Sruly Greenwald. This is the same for many other stories, such as “Blastoff!” or “Tailor Made”

    We are so happy to see fans from all generations discussing and enjoying our work! (As well as those who managed to pick out specific references to famous characters/events!).

    Rabbi Yossi Kirsch, the producer of the tapes, recently launched a new project “Professor Torah Productions.” Visitors can purchase old ToraVision tapes as digital downloads and stay on top of upcoming projects. We hope to begin creating short stories for the latest generation!

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