LITTLE NECK, Queens (PIX11) —  A married couple from Queens who think their love story was meant for Broadway is reviving the musical production they started, just before the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on their plans.

“It’s been a really hard two years,” Irene Failenbogen, a Jewish cantor who started her career as an actress and singer thirty years ago in a production of ‘Dracula” in her native Buenos Aires, Argentina, said.

Failenbogen is married to a former Catholic priest, William McBride, and the story of how they fell in love is the focus of their musical, ‘Oy Father,’ with the script written by McBride and music from Failenbogen.

The couple had performed the 90-minute show six times before the pandemic hit, in small venues on Long Island and in Queens.  In early 2020, they were excited about bringing the musical a bit closer to the great, white way.

“We had a chance to perform in Manhattan at the Makor Center in April 2020,” McBride told PIX11 News, “so we felt the show had a momentum of getting closer to Broadway.  And then the pandemic stopped the momentum.”

McBride was ordained a priest at the age of 27 in Madison, Wisconsin and remained so for sixteen years.  But in his early 40s, he was visiting the New York area when he saw an ad for singing lessons, posted by Failenbogen.

Failenbogen had moved to Long Island from Buenos Aires in 1995, about a year after the Jewish Center there was bombed, killing 85 people. Early in her life, attending second grade in public school, Failenbogen had been subjected to anti-Semitism by a classmate,

“A girl called me filthy Jew, in Spanish, and she started physical violence,” Failenbogen recalled.  “We were pulling hair.  I didn’t want to stay in this school.”

Failenbogen said the experience opened up her curiosity about her Jewish roots, even though her family was not particularly religious.

“My parents searched for a Hebrew school for me,” Failenbogen said.  “The Jewish music, it changed my life forever.”

The youngest of four daughters, she told PIX11 News “I’m the only one who had a Jewish education.”

When Failenbogen met her student, Rev. William McBride, he had already studied Judaism extensively, so he understood the tradition Failenbogen loved so much.

McBride told PIX11 News in 2015 he was drawn to Irene’s “spirituality and grace.” He recalled that he knew he had to act on his feelings for Failenbogen after his brother, Tom, died suddenly in a car accident while McBride was on a priestly mission in Taiwan.

“I thought to myself, ‘You have one life to live. and it had to be with Irene,'” McBride said then.

The couple married in 1998 and have two sons, Michael, 21, and Nathan, 17. Both sons are talented performers.  Michael attended LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts and Nathan is currently enrolled at Frank Sinatra High School. The children were raised in the Jewish faith and were bar mitzvahed but were also exposed to their father’s Catholic tradition.

Bill McBride said his love for his wife was only strengthened during the pandemic. They both used Zoom to keep up their respective work. McBride works with students at York Community College, while Failenbogen teaches yoga and chair dancing in addition to her work as a cantor.

“She’s the yoga/chair dance teacher, and I’m the DJ,” McBride joked, “I run the music.”

McBride also used his time during the COVID-19 lockdown to write a book called “Happiness in the Long Run, an ABC for Thriving Through Life’s Marathons.” The book is for anyone who needs help navigating the ups and downs of life.

In the first chapter, McBride talks about a 79-year-old stroke patient who found the ability “to look forward to something.” Another section talks about a 30-year-old cancer patient who was dying, yet told McBride she felt grateful she had met the love of her life and shared two children with him. The woman suggested to McBride that people should say “they’re thriving, instead of surviving.”

McBride is starting a book club on the 4th Thursday of every month to discuss the ways life is a marathon, but his big emphasis is getting ready for his next show with Irene on Sunday, March 27th at the Brookville Multifaith Campus in Glen Head, New York.  

“We thought we kind of needed the sense of revival ourselves,” Failenbogen said, “after the last two years.”

You can buy the tickets online at irenetunes.com/oy-father.

The couple is dedicating Sunday’s show to the memory of Irene’s older sister, Elsa, who died Feb. 13 after battling uterine cancer. Elsa had always been supportive of Irene and Bill’s relationship.

“When I mentioned I was falling in love, she was all for it,” Failenbogen recalled.  
“She was big on taking risks in life.”