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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


Grigory Gurvich stands alone on a stage washed in a spotlight so deep it appears black.

The place is the Bat Cabaret Theater, which he founded in 1989. Grisha - as everyone called him - wears a deadpan expression, snapping off the final word of a joke and faking an indifferent glance at a mysterious figure we imagine standing in the wings. We, the spectators, howl with laughter.

Gurvich died Nov. 5 of leukemia in Israel, where he had gone for a last-ditch operation. He was 43 years old. In recent years, he had earned nationwide popularity, first with his participation in the "Vremyachko" television show, then in the "Old Apartment" series on RTR. But Grisha was a man of the stage and it was into his Bat Cabaret Theater, recently renamed the Bat Musical Theater, that he put his heart and soul.

I missed the beginning, but, by the time I showed up for the Bat's second show the next night on May 27, 1989, Gurvich had already built a legend. The stories of the theater's first-night triumph had flown through Moscow's theater community like, well, like bats out of hell.

In name and in kind, Gurvich had resurrected the great comedy theater that existed before the revolution. What he had done, in fact, was create a new theater whose time had come. Gurvich, who acted as the emcee for all of his theater's performances and often played parts himself, was a man of trenchant wit, velvet sophistication and dry-eyed sentimentality. He used his slight stutter to underscore his sentiment, deepen his wit and humanize his sophistication.

This Jewish actor/director from Baku epitomized Moscow style - cosmopolitan, classy, fearless, quick, knowing, occasionally harsh and usually forgiving. He told me minutes before the opening of his second show, "I Tap About Moscow," that he wanted people to see that they could live well in Russia. He did that and so much more.

For me, Grisha Gurvich was, and always will be Mr. Moscow.

- John Freedman