Apr 272011

Few months ago my dear friend, Stas Wronka, called me saying that he would like to introduce me to a very talented writer and composer who has written an interesting musical related to Jewish culture.  A week later he came with Art Levine to one of our shows at Flashpoint with the script and a tape with a snapshot of the musical that was previously successfully produced by the Sandy Spring Theater Group in Gaithersburg in June 2010 but was never produced on the professional stage.  I learned from Art that “Called Up To Life is a  new musical blending the sounds of klezmer and Yiddish theatre with the power of Hasidic storytelling.  The musical begins as a group of Italian Jews, preparing for the Sabbath, are interrupted by a mysterious caller.  This caller claims to have been the assistant to the legendary Baal Shem Tov.  When asked to relate his experiences, the caller loses all memory.  The Italians tell the rollicking stories they know, outlining the life of the Baal Shem Tov.  Still, the caller remains mute.  Finally, the caller remembers a story that has immediate implications for the group and resolves all outstanding issues. ”

I listened carefully and with each word I became more and more interested in the work and grabbed the script and a tape and promised to read it and get back to Art.

A week later our brainstorming begun.  I was thinking that the only way to produce the show is to have live musicians but that would bring the cost of a production to big numbers so I offered first to do the show as a Staged Reading with the recorded music or with the piano.  We started immediately searching for the best venue, we wanted to find the best place that would get most interest and create a buzz.  I thought of many places around the area, Flashpoint, Synagogue, The Lyceum and more.  Stan introduced me to director, Stan Levin with whom we met at Bus Boys and Poets and continued our brainstorming.   we are hoping to bring to live the show in June.

More will develop soon.  We became very excited and looking forward to see the project on stage.  Collaboration and good partnership is the key word for us now.

  One Response to “How it all started–Called Up To Life – The Legends of the Baal Shem Tov.”

Comments (1)
  1. Kudos to the cast, Hanna, Tom and Art, for a successful reading!

    The task of mounting any musical is a challenge when there are months of preparation — but to do one with the absolute minimal rehearsal — well, it’s terrifying! Despite this fact, I feel we gave a good rendition of the script, and from the comments I heard, the audience had no difficulty following the story. This is a triumph alone, since the plot takes place in two eras and in several places.

    To communicate the main idea and sing it as well — that is an accomplishment!

    I found the music satisfying and even now, some of the melodies are playing in my thoughts — a few of the tunes are especially catchy. It was great to work with Art and his score.

    I felt the shortened length of the reading was actually fairly effective, and frankly, I thought we had just about the right amount of the fables and the story of the BSHT. That would mean that the two hour version really should take the story someplace beyond this hour-long version –

    I think some valuable questions arose during the the rehearsal process — as limited as it was — Gia and Barbara began to delve into the women’s roles and began to consider their lines and motivations — there was not much there, at least in the beginning. Any time an actress starts to ask, why am I saying this — it’s a pretty good indication that there’s a need for some tweeking! I found myself also wondering about the character Simcha — he’s fairly two-dimensional, which is OK in one respect, but there does seem to be an opportunity to make the Livorno crowd even more believable, mostly as a way to underline the story of Reb Simon and Rosh Yeshiva — the main characters in that world.

    Looking toward the future, I would hope that Art would consider some revisions — not many, but a few. It seems that as the director, Tom has a clear sense of the arc of the play, and he seems to feel strongly that it would be best to flesh out the Livorno, Italy characters — with the idea of making the denouement even stronger. I think he’s right — but it’s hard for any writer to step back from a piece — I know, since I’ve written a few myself.

    Here’s hoping we get a second chance to make it even better. I look forward to the opportunity to work with you all, again.

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