By Dale King
The Kosher Cheerleader, a humorous, often heart-warming production about a woman seeking true fulfillment in life, told by the person who lived it, is playing through late August at the PGA Arts Center in Palm Beach Gardens.
Billed as a one-woman show, the performance stars Sandy (Wolshin) Gelfound, a former National Football League cheerleader who once sported hot pants and pom-poms before turning to stand-up comedy and eventually to Orthodox Judaism as her chosen lifestyle.
Though on stage alone, with some furniture and a video screen to the rear for explanatory graphics, she expertly personifies many of the outrageous characters she has encountered – 43 in all, from her mom, dad and siblings to a rabbi, a psychologist, Sylvester Stallone, a date named Shlomo and a matchmaker.
Sandy, who wrote the show and performs it, is herself an excellent storyteller and charming lady, which makes this autobiographical piece even more entrancing.
She comes across like at least two different people: one, the vibrant, outgoing Raiderette, who high-kicked her way along the gridiron sidelines for the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders for five years; the other, the dedicated, observant Jew who personifies the stringent lifestyle that embraces love, prayer, laughter and family.
With Sandy at the helm, the show glides through her life’s journey as she recounts the transition “from Raiderette to Jewette.” It’s a three-hour performance that ends too soon.
We learn about her father – a Borscht Belt performer and Jewish atheist. “He knew he was one of the chosen people; he just didn’t know by whom,” and her mom, a Russian Orthodox Christian gypsy flamenco dancer who solos with castanets. The audience gets a visual and verbal peek at her large family. In fact, her youngest sister, Sonia, is at the theater and records viewers’ reactions to the show on her iPhone during intermission.
The viewers also learn that Sandy has a hole in her heart – literally – and is one day rushed to the hospital for treatment. Her family traipses through like a parade of misfits, offering balms and psalms to help her recover, in a particularly comic segment.
Healthy again, Sandy auditions her way onto the Raiderettes cheering squad – a job that paid $35 a game and forced her to seek additional employment – as a stand-up comedian – to make ends meet. As that occupation developed, she worked alongside such talents as Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld.
It was cheerleading, though, that brought her into contact with the little girl who changed her life. Sandy met Amanda during a Raiderette appearance at Pep Boys. The child had an unforgettable face and a memorable story that Sandy took very much to heart.
Suddenly, cheering lost its luster. Sandy eventually traded the hot pants and go-go boots for the manners, beliefs and nearly head-to-toe garb of Orthodox Jewish women.
“At the beach, I get tan likes here and here,” she said, pointing to her neck and ankles. The audience begins laughing aloud as if they suddenly recall this is a comedy show. Sandy kicks high and does a somersault on the stage in a long, colorful skirt, showing she still retains some of her Raiderette oomph.
Act II takes Sandy into the welcoming world of Orthodox Judaism, which includes highly ritualistic dating rites. It’s a rollicking piece involving matchmakers, rabbis, lots of funky advice and plenty of guys who just don’t seem to get it.
Eventually, one of them does, Sandy says with delight as a wedding video flashes on the screen behind her. A film of a newborn baby follows.
“In Judaism, the rabbis say, ‘Gam zu l’tovah’ – everything is for the good,” Sandy says. “I was born with a hole in my heart. How can that be good? Well, after many years, the doctors have finally said that nothing needs to be fixed. The hole never grew bigger. Only my heart did.”
The Kosher Cheerleader plays through Aug. 27 at the PGA Arts Center, 4076 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens. Tickets are $45 to $59 and are available by calling 1-855-448-7469 or visiting www.pgaartscenter.com. Shows are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m.