The company of Bard on Beach’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. (photo by Tim Matheson)
The thespian delights of Shakespeare set against the glorious backdrop of mountains, sea and sky have been missed. But now, after a COVID-induced two-year hiatus, Bard on the Beach at Vanier Park is back with a bang, based on the audience buzz on opening night.
The comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a perennial crowd pleaser, will occupy the BMO Mainstage all season. Harlem Duet, a tale of Black life spanning three periods in American history, runs until mid-July on the smaller Howard Family Stage, with Romeo and Juliet taking over that stage in August through to September.
This is the seventh time Bard has produced A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this rendition has “hit” written all over it. It is one cheeky dream.
Set against the backdrop of the upcoming marriage of Athenian Duke Theseus (Ian Butcher) to foreign Queen Hippolyta (Melissa Oei), three stories weave their way through a mélange of mistaken identities, unrequited love, feuding fairy royalty and would-be actors, riotously intersecting in the enchanted wood outside of Athens.
Four young lovers, Hermia (Heidi Damayo), Lysander (Olivia Hutt), Helena (Emily Dallas) and Demetrius (Christopher Allen) dash through the woods in a mad, “looking for love romp” replete with a WWE-worthy cat fight and zingy insults.
Meanwhile, in the sylvan wonderland, Fairy King Oberon (Billy Marchenski) and his queen, Titania (Kate Besworth), are in the midst of a custody battle. Oberon sends his trusty servant, the mischievous Puck (Sarah Roa), to exact revenge on his queen with a potion meant to make her fall in love with the first thing she sees when she awakes.
Finally, we meet a troupe of bumbling tradesmen who seek refuge in the forest to rehearse Pyramus and Thisbe, the play they have written in honour of the duke’s pending nuptials. It is during this rehearsal, that one of them, Bottom (Carly Street), morphs into an ass, both literally and figuratively, and becomes the love interest of Titania.
In a nod to diversity and gender fluidity, director Scott Bellis (who knows this play from top to bottom, having performed in five of Bard’s previous Midsummer productions) has cast lovers Hermia and Lysander as a lesbian couple, while two of the tradesmen, Bottom and Snug (Jewish community member Advah Soudack), are played as females.
Bellis has also incorporated some interesting staging devices. Oberon arrives on stage on stilts, towering over his subjects. Bottom makes numerous asides to the audience and takes forays up the aisles. And the Mechanicals characters, at one point, move in a shuffling turntable motion around the stage.
Street steals the show as Bottom, the know-it-all of the working class group. Although given the lead of Pyramus, she wants to play all of the parts, thinking she can act better than the others. In her quest to prove this, she gives whole new meaning to the concept of emoting. It generally works and the audience loves it, although she often upstages her castmates.
Roa provides a refreshing spin on her impish character and Soudack, although in a minor role, is hilarious as the timid lion in Pyramus and Thisbe, as is Flute (Munish Sharma) as Thisbe, the reluctant object of Pyramus’s affection. Many of the actors are making their Bard debut and it is good to see new blood in the Vancouver theatre scene.
Jewish community members are prominent behind the scenes in this production. Amir Ofek’s set, backed by two leaded glass windows framing the view of the North Shore, easily transitions from the staid royal Athenian court to the warehouse of the tradesmen to the whimsy of the Oberon realm. Mishelle Cuttler, as sound designer/composer, provides original music that complements Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s ethereal choreography, as performed by students from the Simon Fraser University School of Contemporary Dance. You don’t usually get to see Shakespeare with so many dance elements, which adds an interesting layer to the mix.
Christine Reimer’s costumes are a delight – earth-toned, tailored day suits and cloche hats for the women, a white bejeweled gown for Titania, frothy candy-coloured tutus for the fairies and silky evening frocks for the final scene. Gerald King’s lighting – the greens, the purples, the reds – all work in harmony with the sun as it sets behind the stage.
The original cast of Glory. (photo by Barbara Zimonick)
I hope Glory inspires audience members to look up the Preston Rivulettes and learn how amazingly driven, committed, skilled and bad-ass these female hockey players were,” Advah Soudack told the Independent.
The Rivulettes were entered into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963. According to the website of the Rivulettes Junior Hockey Club, “The team played an estimated 350 games between 1930 and 1940, tying three and losing only two. In that 10-year span, the Rivulettes were 10 times the winners of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Trophy that was presented each year to the champions of Ontario. They were also six-time winners of the Eastern Canadian championship and the Elmer Doust Cup that went with it. They won the trophy each time they competed for it. The team’s crowning achievement was capturing the Lady Bessborough Trophy as Canadian champions no less than six times.”
“Their determination, their courage, their fight and their passion” were what inspired Tracey Power to write Glory, which starts its touring run March 29-30 at Kay Meek Arts Centre in West Vancouver.
Power was also interested in 1930s Canada, which “presented many personal challenges, a national depression, the growth of international hatred that would ultimately become the Second World War, and how those international relations greatly affected Canadian multicultural relations, antisemitism and sexism, to name just a few.
“Through hard times,” she said, “we often turn to sport or entertainment for escape, for community and for strength. For me, the women on this team and their coach represented not just a team of hockey players, but a country fighting to survive.”
Glory premièred last year, and the touring production brings with it some changes, including two new actors, Andrew Wheeler as the team’s coach, Herb Fach, and Soudack as the character Marm Schwartz.
“The choreography grows and strengthens with every run,” said Power of other changes. “I’m a huge believer in trying new ideas, and the more detailed we can be in our storytelling, the more exciting it will be for our audience. There may be some new text ideas that come out of rehearsal. I’m always open to a new play exploring new territory each time we go back into rehearsal.”
Kate Dion-Richard reprises her role as Helen Schwartz.
“Tracey reached out to me a couple of years ago to play the part of Helen in a workshop and reading for the show,” said Dion-Richard. “A few months after the workshop, I auditioned formally for the role. That included reading a couple of scenes, as well as taking part in a group dance call. The dance was a new style of ‘swing-skate’ that Tracey had created, which incorporated swing dance moves of the 1930s with hockey skills and plays.”
It is not an accident that Jewish community members have been cast as the real-life Jewish sisters.
“Marm struggles with being able to get the education she wants because of quotas universities had at the time; she fights back against antisemitism and must find ways to deal with her anger both on the ice and off. Helen is confident in her femininity and struggles to figure out how such an aggressive sport fits within the expected view of a woman of that time. It has always been important to me to have Jewish actors play these roles,” explained Power.
“During the development of the play,” she said, “the conversations we had were instrumental in bringing the characters’ truths to the stage. I am not Jewish, but it’s my duty as the playwright to understand the souls and bones of these women and what they went through. I’m extremely thankful to Kate Dion-Richard, Gili Roskies [who played Marm last year] and Advah Soudack for being so open and honest with me about their own Jewish history.
“Bobbie Rosenfeld was one of the most famous Canadian athletes of the 1920s/30s,” she added. “She was an Olympic gold medalist and, among many other sports, played hockey for the Toronto Pats. She inspired many women to follow their athletic dreams – including Hilda Ranscombe, who was the Hayley Wickenheiser of the Preston Rivulettes – and, much like Marm, she also fought against antisemitism in her sport and life.”
“The awareness of, frustration and personal experience with antisemitism are a big part of Marm’s storyline and journey in this show,” said Soudack. “I personally have not experienced the extent of antisemitism that Marm experiences in this story, however, my close family members have, and I can understand and imagine what it would be like. I feel that I bring my strong sense of Jewish identity to the role of Marm, with all its deep-rooted traditions and expectations. I also share and connect with the concern and, at times, discomfort Marm feels with being Jewish in a world where antisemitism lingers right around the corner.”
Dion-Richard, whose Jewish side of the family is from London, England, grew up hearing stories of living through the war from her grandparents. “Those stories stay with me and in many ways is why this role is so close to home,” she said. “Although Helen is Canadian, the antisemitism felt in Canada in the 1930s was strong and I am able to connect to that through my family’s experiences. Also, on a lighter note, I married a man who isn’t Jewish and so did my character, so that’s a nice similarity.”
And there are other connections for Dion-Richard, who was a hockey fan before taking on this show. “My large extended family of Richards are huge Montreal Canadiens fans due to our distant cousin Maurice Richard (‘The Rocket’),” she shared, “and I grew up on the West Coast, so the Canucks were frequently on the television at home. I have definitely become more of a fan since doing this show – especially of women’s hockey. The Canadian women’s team is incredible and I’d love to meet them and chat about their experiences as women in a traditionally male-dominated sport. I’d also love to know if they know about the Rivulettes!”
Soudack admitted to not having been much of a hockey fan before she started her research and work on Glory. “My husband is a big fan, so I always hear him talking about it, and get dragged onto his computer to watch videos of amazing plays and goals,” she said. However, since Glory, she has become more interested in the game. “I recently went to Thunderbird Stadium to watch the UBC Women’s Hockey playoffs,” she said. “Their commitment, drive and talent were inspiring. I was moved to tears as I sat there, thinking of Hilda, Nellie [Ranscombe], Marm and Helen, realizing and deeply understanding why they loved the game so much.”
About sports and the relevance of the Rivulettes’ experiences for today’s audiences, Soudack said, “It still feels the same, in regard to women not having the same opportunities and not really being seen as equals to men in athletic ability. I find it sad that young girls can fall in love with a sport and be exceptional at it, like Hilda Ranscombe; however, there is no future career they can look toward. Once the war was over, women’s opportunity to play sports vanished, whereas the men’s opportunities and careers took off.”
“Women not only had to fight for ice time – often having to play and practise in the very early hours or very late hours of the day; essentially when the men didn’t need the ice – but they also had to fight to be taken seriously,” said Dion-Richard. “Many of the reports of the women’s hockey games included remarks about the apparent lack of femininity within the game and some even questioned the sex of the players because of how aggressive the women were. Also, women were unable to be professional hockey players. The men were paid and the women weren’t. As a woman living in 2019, I still see the need to fight for equality with pay, representation and respect.”
“I’d love to add that this show has something for everyone,” said Dion-Richard. “The Canadian history is so important to know, as well as the fight for respect and equality that these women pushed for. They really paved the way for all of us and I hope we can show how grateful we are to them for that. This is a show that could be a link for people who don’t normally go to the theatre. It fuses sport and theatre with Canadian history, and the story is as relevant today as it was in the 1930s.”
Left to right: Advah Soudack, Tom Pickett and Adam Abrams co-star in Two Views from the Sylvia, playing at the Waterfront Theatre Nov. 8-12. (photo from Kol Halev)
“For me, the ‘coolest’ thing is Sylvia herself,” Advah Soudack told the Independent. “From everything I have read and heard, she was a dynamite of a woman – fiery, passionate and full of life. The woman lived until 102, for goodness sake, and did so with a heart murmur that caused much concern for doctors and her parents when she was young. I like the story of how she met her husband, Harry. The two were on a Jewish singles cruise and, when Harry witnessed Sylvia dive enthusiastically off the side of the boat, he knew in that moment that she was the gal for him. I only wish Sylvia was alive to see the show.”
Soudack takes on the role of Sylvia Ablowitz, née Goldstein, whose father, Abraham, built the Sylvia Hotel and named it after his daughter. The family’s story and stories about the renowned establishment in English Bay are depicted in Two Views from the Sylvia, which is being presented by Kol Halev Performance Society Nov. 8-12 at the Waterfront Theatre.
“This is the most ambitious show Kol Halev has produced, and their first as a registered society. But it fits perfectly into their mandate to tell stories of Jewish history and local Vancouver history, with music, song and performance, in an engaging and entertaining way,” said Adam Abrams, who plays Abraham in the production, and is also vice-president of Kol Halev. “I’m so excited to be a part of it,” he said.
Two Views from the Sylvia is comprised of two original one-act plays. Its genesis can be traced back some four years, to a Jewish psychology network meeting attended by Kol Halev president Sue Cohene and Ablowitz’s great-niece, Marsha Ablowitz, who pitched the story of her famous great-aunt to Cohene. In mid-2013, members of Kol Halev met with Marsha Ablowitz and her mother, Sally Seidler, who is now 99 years old.
By August 2013, Joan Stuchner had drafted the first two pages of a play. A few months later, Deborah Vogt joined the writing team, with she and Abrams assisting Stuchner. Sadly, Stuchner died in June 2014 of pancreatic cancer and Vogt had to complete the script without her.
Vogt’s one-act play, Sylvia’s Hotel, with music by Britt MacLeod and Kerry O’Donovan, lyrics by MacLeod, is set in 1912, and focuses on the origins of the hotel and on the Ablowitz-Goldstein family. “Both young Sylvia Goldstein and Joe Fortes, the beloved lifeguard who taught Vancouver children to swim, experience the challenges of those who didn’t quite ‘belong’ in the Vancouver of the time,” notes the promotional material. It forms Act 1 of Two Views from the Sylvia.
Act 2, called The Hotel Sylvia, is by Cathy Moss and Kelsey Blair. It focuses on the period after the building of the hotel, and “we meet the characters whose lives and loves became interwoven with the story of the Sylvia over her 100-year history.”
In Act 1, most of the characters are based on real people, members of the Goldstein family and Fortes. In Act 2, most of the characters are composites of more than one person or story, notably the character of Franny, who is a nod to a longtime Sylvia employee.
“Several of the stories told in this one act play are the stories as told to Cathy Moss and me by Huguette Gingras, who was the front-desk clerk at the Sylvia Hotel for 35 years,” said Cohene.
Tom Pickett, who plays Fortes in Act 1, plays the character of John in Act 2. “Though John is an independent character, he cares about the Sylvia the way Joe cares about the kids and English Bay so, in my mind, I imbue a hint of John with a bit of Joe and maybe vice versa,” said the actor.
Pickett – who said he has played Fortes a few times before – was immediately on board when he heard that Christopher King was the director and Shelly Stewart Hunt was the choreographer of the production. “Then I had the pleasure of talking with Sue Cohene on the phone and the connection was instantaneous,” he told the Independent. “And then, as we began rehearsals, the artistic opportunities to honour a Vancouver landmark like the Sylvia and represent a historical figure like Joe Fortes deepened. I think many people know of the Sylvia but don’t know a lot about the Sylvia. I’ve done a gospel concert at the Sylvia, my wife’s cousin from Montreal always stays at the Sylvia, my mechanic, the teller at my bank, the list goes on.”
“It seems that everyone has a story or a connection to the Sylvia,” agreed Abrams, “so it’s exciting to be telling a story about something so iconic, that means so much to people in Vancouver. And though I’m thrilled to have a great role, I’ve been mostly just impressed with what everyone else is bringing to it. There are some really beautiful moments both visually and dramatically, and some wonderful music, too. I think people are going to leave the theatre humming the title theme, ‘At the Sylvia’!”
About his character in Act 1, Abrams said, “Abe is someone who wants more than just personal success, he really wants to make his city a better place and feels the hotel will help achieve that. He’s also proud of his Jewish heritage and wants to show what his people can accomplish – despite facing a lot of the prejudice that was so common at that time.”
In Act 2, Abrams plays Mr. Lowry, “the manager of the present-day Sylvia, [who] is trying out Franny for the front-desk job to see how she does. He just shows up a couple of times, but I’m finding a lot of little moments of humour in his appearances.”
In preparing for the show, Soudack met with Marsha Ablowitz. “I not only flipped through piles of photos and heard stories,” said Soudack, “but also held Sylvia’s hairbrush, mirror and curling iron with her initials gracefully engraved on them in my hands. If the audience is paying close attention, they may even catch a glimpse of these artifacts in the show.”
While Sylvia appears in Act 1, she is only talked about in Act 2. In the second half of the production, Soudack plays Nora, who appears, said Soudack, “as a flashback to the Sylvia during the Second World War.”
“She is an interesting character, not only because of her independent nature, but also because of the times in which she would exercise this independence,” said the actor. “Nora, as explained by her daughter Gloria in Act 2, would visit the Sylvia twice a year. Gloria mentions that her mother, Nora, would come to write in her journal. She made a routine of it and even wore the same blue dress…. It turns out that she didn’t always come to write in her journal, she would also come to the Sylvia to dance.
“For me,” said Soudack, “Nora is an intriguing character to play because there has to be a reason why she came to the Sylvia and did so year after year. In the script, she talks about ‘taking a night off from everything.’ She mentions things about the war, headlines, air-raid precautions, however, as the actress, I choose to dig deeper and find what else she is ‘escaping’ from and taking the night off from…. There is a pure innocence to Nora going to the Sylvia twice a year to write in her journal and dance, but is there also an alter ego or an alternate life she desperately wants to explore?”
Other Jewish community members in the cast are Anna-Mae Wiesenthal and Joyce Gordon, while Heather Martin is associate producer and Gwen Epstein is on the production team. The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia has created a photo exhibit, which will be on display at the theatre.
“Lots of things are very exciting,” said Cohene, “like watching amazingly creative choreography being developed on the spot. Hearing beautiful singing by the cast makes me want to sing along. I don’t – I am the producer and need to remember my role.
“I hope that people who come to the show are aware that we are a community theatre group. We are so fortunate to have the wonderful participation of two professional actors,” she said, referring to Pickett and Soudack, “who work alongside our very talented group of emerging actors. Kol Halev strives to be inclusive, accommodating performers of all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience. We aim to offer the opportunity to learn and create, in all aspects of our production. I’m hoping that this value is appreciated when the public sees the show.”
For tickets ($28) – and a chance to win free ones with your story of the Sylvia – visit kolhalev.ca.
Left to right are Kaila Kask (Mary Phagan), Emily Smith, Rachel Garnet and Alina Quarin with Riley Sandbeck (Leo Frank). (photo by Allyson Fournier)
On Aug. 17, 1915, 31-year-old Leo Frank was kidnapped from the Georgia State Penitentiary in Milledgeville by a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob and hanged by his neck until he was dead. His alleged crime: the rape and murder of 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan. His real crime: being Jewish, successful and a northerner in an impoverished Deep South still reeling from the humiliation of the Civil War and looking for retribution against its perceived oppressors.
The case has been the subject of novels, plays, movies and even a mini-series. But who would have thought that you could make a musical out of such a tragedy. Author Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and Broadway producer Hal Prince (Cabaret) did. Thus Parade was born, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. It opened on Broadway in 1998, won two Tonys and went on to be produced across America to much acclaim.
Now, Fighting Chance Productions, a local amateur theatre company, is bringing this compelling story to Vancouver audiences for its Western Canadian première at the Rothstein Theatre April 14-29. Director Ryan Mooney and lead actor Advah Soudack (Lucille) spoke with the Jewish Independent about the upcoming production. But first, more background, because it is an incredible story.
Frank was a slight man – five feet, six inches tall, 120 pounds – with a nervous temperament. Born in Texas and raised in Brooklyn, he graduated from Cornell University with a degree in mechanical engineering and was enticed to move to Atlanta in 1908 to run the factory owned by his uncle. There, he met and married Lucille, a 21-year-old woman from a prominent Jewish family. The newlyweds lived a life of privilege and wealth in a posh Atlanta neighbourhood, Frank became the president of the local B’nai B’rith chapter. However, having been brought up in the vibrant Yiddish milieu of New York, he always felt like an outsider amid the assimilated Southern Jewish community.
The journey to his tragic demise started the morning of Saturday, April 26, 1913, when little Mary put on her best clothes to attend the Confederate Memorial Day Parade in downtown Atlanta. On the way, she stopped at the National Pencil Factory, where Frank was the superintendent, to pick up her weekly pay packet from his office. That was the last time she was seen alive. Her body, half-naked and bloodied, was found in the basement of the factory later that day. Shortly after, Frank was arrested by the police and charged with the crime along with the African-American janitor, Jim Conley.
The trial was a media circus fueled by a zealous district attorney, Hugh Dorsey, who was looking for a conviction in a high-profile case to popularize his bid for the governorship of Georgia, and Tom Watson, a right-wing newspaper publisher who wrote virulent, racist editorials against Frank, casting him as a diabolical criminal and calling for a revival of the Klan “to do justice.” Frank was convicted by an all-white jury on the testimony of Conley – who had turned state’s evidence in exchange for immunity – and sentenced to death in a trial that can only be characterized as a miscarriage of justice replete with a botched police investigation, the withholding of crucial evidence, witness tampering and perjured testimony. This was America’s Dreyfus trial and Frank was the scapegoat.
The conviction appalled right-thinking people and mobilized Jewish communities across America into action. William Randolph Hearst and New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs campaigned on Frank’s behalf. The conviction and sentence were appealed. Georgia governor John Slaton was lobbied to review the case. For two years, Frank sat in jail not knowing his fate until, one day, he heard that Slaton had commuted his death sentence to life in prison. In response, frenzied mobs rioted in the streets and stormed the governor’s mansion. A state of martial law was declared and the National Guard called out to protect the city. Against this backdrop, Frank was transferred into protective custody at the state penitentiary but that did not stop the lynch mob, some of whom had been jurors at the trial.
It wasn’t until 1986 that Frank was (posthumously) pardoned by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Jewish Independent: What attracted you to this play?
Ryan Mooney: Parade has been a favourite musical of mine for as long as I can remember. I was drawn to it because it is such a fascinating story, it speaks so much to its time and continues to speak to us. When people see it, they will want to know more. It has beautiful soaring music, is very emotional, but also it is real, so relatable. It will take you on a journey that will touch you in many ways.
Advah Soudack: The songs, the music. When I was going through the script and getting used to the music, I could not get through some of the songs without choking up, it was so emotional, beautiful and real.
JI: How would you classify it as a theatrical piece?
RM: It is, in essence, a love story about a young man and a woman who learn through tragic circumstances to have a deeper love for each other and to appreciate each other’s kind of love.
AS: Leo sees love as a service, being a provider, while Lucille looks for love in spending quality time together and physical intimacy. Over time, their two loves unite.
JI: This isn’t your typical musical. It has a very dark side. It covers the kind of subject matter usually covered in narrative plays. Do you think people want to see this kind of musical theatre?
RM: Our company, as our name states, takes chances and we are taking a chance on this, but I think the risk is worthwhile and that audiences will appreciate the story. It seems to do very well wherever it plays – Broadway, London. We thought the Rothstein Theatre would be the perfect venue and we hope that the Jewish community will support us.
JI: Is this strictly a Jewish story?
RM: It is not necessarily just a Jewish story, it could be about anybody, anywhere. It is a fascinating look at a historic event through a musical lens. I don’t think Prince was trying to make a political statement when he produced the show but rather to educate people about the event. At the time of its first production, 1998, shows like Ragtime and Showboat were on Broadway alongside Parade. It seemed to be a time for examining how mainstream America treated those people it considered lesser citizens.
JI: What was it like to cast?
RM: The production requires a large cast: 25. I needed people who could sing and act. Lots of people auditioned and we ended up with a great cast, with the members spanning the ages of 18 to 60. What makes this show very relevant is that we have actors playing roles for their real ages, not trying to be someone younger or older, and that makes the production more realistic. I wanted at least one of the leads to be Jewish and Avdah was perfect for the role of Lucille.
AS: When I heard about this show, I jumped at the chance to apply. I had been out of theatre for about 10 years and I really wanted to get back into it. I was lucky enough to get a callback after my first audition and felt very proud of my performance the second time around. I was thrilled when I got the role.
JI: What is it like to deal with a true event as opposed to a fictional account?
RM: Because it is a real life story, there is so much more research you can do to make sure you get it right. I read Steve Oney’s And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank and gave it to members of the cast to read to get a feel for the characters and some background information. There is some material that did not make it into the musical but the play does essentially honour the accuracy of the event.
AS: I am reading the book right now and it is so fascinating to get the story behind the character and be able to use that as an actor.
JI: How are Leo and Lucille portrayed in the script?
RM: He is not portrayed that sympathetically. At the trial, he is really cold and does not look repentant but, ultimately, we see him break. If he were just shown as a martyr and everyone else a villain, that would not be interesting for the audience. Instead, the audience sees his flawed human character and that is why it is a great story to tell – [he’s] a person with faults that anyone can relate to.
AS: She is a Southern woman and a product of the American melting pot, more assimilated than Jewish, and that is how she survives. America wants you to become American first and everything else second. People like her thought like that and assimilated. Then, she is thrust into this case, where horrific things are being said against her husband on a daily basis in the newspapers and she has to deal with that. Yet, she stands by him and is one of his biggest supporters. She even went to the governor’s mansion to personally lobby him to intervene in the case. For a young Southern Jewish woman, that was a big step. So, you see her grow into this strong, independent woman.
She comes across very strong in the play, perhaps stronger than she really was in real life, but she was so committed to Leo’s cause and to him. She came every day to jail to visit him and bring him food. The circumstances of the tragedy allowed her the opportunity to become a heroine.
JI: What will the staging be like?
RM: The set is a long wall with platforms set at different levels. The lights will move through the different levels from scene to scene to create more of a cinematic flow, more like a movie than live theatre. We did not want the story’s flow to be interrupted by the audience clapping after every song. Of course, we do hope the audience will give a standing ovation at the end of the show.
JI: What do you expect audiences to take away from the musical?
RM: I want them to walk out with questions and want to look up more information about the case, but I also want them to leave with the understanding that all good art finds the grey in life and that everything is not black and white. One of the biggest issues in America today is the mentality that you are either with us or you are against us. The world is going in that direction and it is a hard place to be. You have to be able to see issues from all angles if you want to see any positive growth. There are some ambiguities in the show but there are also strong life lessons about the dangers of prejudice and ignorance.