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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 2w ago
Driving on sunshine with the Hoover family in a musical based on the much-loved film

Folk are passionate about the 2006 Oscar-winning movie that takes its audience on a road trip from New Mexico to California in the company of the dysfunctional, financially challenged Hoover family. The aim of the trip? To traverse 800 miles in a battered old VW bus in just 48 hours to make final of the children’s beauty pageant of the title, so that they can make the dream of youngest family member Olive come true. Now Tony Award-winning Jewish team James Lapine, (Stephen Sondheim’s long-term collaborator, writer of the books of some of his best-loved musicals) and William Finn (music and lyrics) bring the family members, their hopes and fears, their aspirations and quirks, to the stage. Thanks to David Woodhead’s artful design, a revolving platform – sunshine yellow of course – topped with yellow chairs that can be reconfigured in the time it takes for a pit stop, that valiant vehicle takes to the stage too.

So meet the Hoovers, led by dad Richard (Gabriel Vick), a would-be life coach, who should perhaps either start with his own family, his gay brother-in-law Frank (Paul Keating), recovering from a failed suicide attempt after his lover leaves him, or his stepson Dwayne (Sev Keoshgerian), a Nietzche disciple who has vowed to remain silent until he achieves his dream of becoming a test pilot. Mum Sheryl (Laura Pitt-Pulford) strives doughtily to keep the family together and everyone’s spirits up. It’s left to the oldest and the youngest – Grandpa (Gary Wilmot) and Olive (Sophie Hartley-Booth on press night) – to accentuate the positive, though Grandpa does like to keep his pecker up, so to speak, with his drug-fuelled amorous adventures. Wilmot is an especially winning rascal and young Sophie an unselfconscious delight.

En route the travellers encounter officials, motel staff and a trio of ‘mean girls’ (Elissia Simondwood, Yvie Bent and Elodie Salmon on press night), Olive’s contemporaries and later rivals at the pageant, who live up to their name. They are indeed as mean to Olive as she is sweet-natured. The also audience encounters Frank’s perfidious ex-boyfriend and his new squeeze, as well as Richard and Sheryl’s more youthful, carefree and romantic selves.

The travellers must also overcome a series of setbacks en route that would stop a less determined bunch in their tracks, not least the breakdown of the VW, which refuses to budge unless the whole family pulls together to push-start it.

In some ways the show feels like a box set, compressing so many personal stories quite apart from Olive’s. Since the film came out well over a decade ago, Olive’s aspirations to win a beauty pageant, especially with a rather outré routine for which she wears precocious bridal wear might be more questionable. But Hartley-Booth (and I’m sure both the other young actors who share the role) carry it off with such disarming natural panache that it’s hard not to be charmed.

The cast is uniformly excellent, entirely convincing with a terrific rapport that they share with the audience, and all the young performers, aged between eight and 10, are extraordinarily talented and self-assured.

The songs have plenty of clever fun lyrics, including Grandpa’s, “What Killed off Tyrannosaurus Rex? Not having sex!” The music is brilliantly played by a terrific live band, who manage to make a big sound with just five musicians (MD Arlene McNaught). It’s always great to listen to, though it is not instantly memorable. Arcola Theatre’s artistic director Mehmet Ergen does not need a satnav to direct in his own space and the company does a great job of playing to the audience on all three sides of a thrust stage (and I can vouch as I was sitting on the side). It all makes for an evening of sunshine, even if it does not shine quite as brightly as the film itself.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Manuel Harlan

Little Miss Sunshine runs until Saturday 11 May. 7.30pm (Mon-Sat), 3pm (Sat only; plus Wed 24 Apr, 1 & 8 May). £10-£30. Arcola Theatre, E8 3DL. Then touring; see www.littlemisssunshinemusical.com for info.

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 3w ago
Dina appears in just one chapter of the book of Genesis: as the silent victim of sexual violence. Now she’s been given a voice in a new opera

In Genesis, chapter 34, a horrific series of events is set in motion. Dina, the only daughter of the patriarch Jacob, goes out “to meet the women of the land” where Jacob and his family have settled. She encounters Shechem, the local Hivite prince. According to Genesis, he “took her and raped her”, before declaring his love and offering marriage. Jacob’s sons exact terrible revenge on him and all the men of the land, tricking them into mass circumcision as a condition for intermarriage, and slaughtering them when at their weakest, after the procedure. Nothing more is heard from Dina.

Diane Samuels (pictured below) says she always wanted to work on Dina’s story because her own Hebrew name is Dina. But the narrative has raised questions for her. Now the playwright, who is best known for her 1993 hit Kindertransport, has co-written The Song of Dina, an opera about the Bible story.

“What makes her go to meet the women? In our drama we have Dina hearing the song of the Hivite women and dancing and praying to their goddess Astarte. She is drawn to the goddess and the idea of the sisters she does not have, so she goes to meet them and encounters Shechem. They are fascinated by each other – it’s quite edgy. In the Bible story there is probably sex,maybe forced. It’s ambiguous from theHebrew whether Dina is raped or not”, says Samuels. She agrees with feminist scholars that the “greatest violence in the story isn’t what Shechem does to Dina or what her brothers, Simeon and Levi, do to the Hivites. It is the silencing of Dina.”

The piece, which is billed as an opera with spoken word, opens with that most central Jewish prayer, ‘Shema Yisroel’ (Hear O Israel). “This is Dina calling to her father, ‘Hear me, Israel (Jacob)’, and ‘Hear me, people of Israel’. She is calling to be heard by her father and the descendants ofIsrael. She says, ‘All living people, hear me now! In the world you live in.’ The music is beautiful. Music is a direct line to the soul.It’s about connecting with the darkness to find the light”, says Samuels.

The musician Maurice Chernick (pictured above) has composed the music for the work,which features a21-strong orchestra and an 18-member choir. He has written the encounter between Dina and Shechem as a song, but says, “The moment it becomes rape it becomes instrumental and the choir doesn’t sing, but they make a sound with their voices. It’s the most experimental bit of the whole show.”

Chernick says his influences in the work range from Sondheim and Bernstein to Stravinsky, Bartok, Bach, Mozart andBeethoven. “There’s even a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan,” he says. This last is a prelude to the darkest part of the story:the massacre of Shechem and the Hivite men. Shechem himself persuades his people that intermarriage is so desirable they should all agree to a (very) painful condition. “If you’re going to write a song about persuading all the men of their tribe to be circumcised, what do you do?” he asks. “It ended up not exactly comedic but gung ho: ‘This is for your country!’”

The part of Dina is sung by soprano Katrina d’Amigos but the role of the harpist, Rivka Gottlieb, is central to the portrayal of the character. “There are motifs that the harp keeps bringing back.The harp felt right for Dina’s character”, she says. “The sound of the strings is ancient, as are the tambourines the women play. The music is rhythmically and harmonically exciting. It’s not often that the harp is highlighted like this. It adds a different kind of texture.”

Gottlieb is also a psychotherapist. Did that give her an insight into the characters? “The realities of the dynamics between people can be complex. There’s a lot at the moment about the voices of women being heard, and what Dina goes through is as contemporary a story as you can get. It’s horrific that these things are still happening to women today.

By Judi Herman

Calligraphic artwork by Vetta Alexis

Song of Dina runs Wednesday 10 & Thursday 11 April. 8pm. £15-£30, £10 concs. St James’s Church, Paddington, W2 3UD.

The opera then runs Sunday 2 June. 8pm. £15-£30, £10 concs. New North London Synagogue, N3 2SY.

Visit songofdina.com for further info.

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
Private passions and passionate political idealism ricochet down the generations in James Phillips’ gripping drama

James Phillips’ award-winning 2005 play was inspired by the story behind the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in 1953 for allegedly providing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Esther and Jakob Rubenstein are the fictional Jewish couple, whose similar fate is a given, in a play that looks forward to the implications for future generations of their idealism, their actions and their destiny.

Phillips’ eye-opener is to interweave two different time periods. In the 1940s and 50s the Rubensteins’ story reaches its climax; in the 70s the action focuses on a new generation just as they reach the age at which the Rubensteins were sharing their meeting of minds.

The play begins in 1970 in a gallery dominated by an image of the eponymous kiss of the condemned couple (based on an iconic real-life image), handcuffed together in a police van. On designer Sean Cavanagh’s intimate traverse stage, the image itself is left to audience imagination, and the gaze of two 20-something visitors, whose shared obsession with what they see leads to mutual attraction. Matthew (Dario Coates) is a law intern, Anna (Katie Eldred) is a history teacher. This could be schematic, the perfect team for a forensic investigation of the facts. Here, thanks to two powerful performances (and a twist in Phillips’ tale that audiences might guess, though it’s not for me to give away), the fiercely intelligent, assertive young woman and the passionate, driven young man take the audience with them on an intensely personal journey of discovery about the case – and each other.

In Joe Harmston’s detailed production, at once sensitive and graphic, the transition to the earlier era is elegantly achieved. This is also thanks to Mike Robertson’s carefully selective lighting and to the accompaniment of the electrical snaps and crackles of Matthew Bugg’s eerie soundscape. His grisly earworms are reminders of the shared end for which the Rubensteins are destined, as they finally get to take centre stage. Cavanagh’s set is bookended by the iron fire escapes and landings of New York tenements, also chillingly reminiscent of the iron attachments of the electric chair.

But that is all to come. The white heat of conviction, with which Henry Proffit’s intense, idealistic Jakob burns, is forged in the horrors of Nazi-occupied Europe, the threat of the nuclear race after the Korean War and the promises held out by Communism to a generation of impoverished immigrants after the Wall Street Crash and the Depression. Ruby Bentall’s vibrant Esther, eyes shining with love and excitement, wants to share it all: the passion for the cause, their love for each other, the fatally dangerous atomic secrets Jakob leaks to the Soviet Union. With a fine sense of the dramatic, she loves to sing her favourite operatic arias around the apartment as she lays a table, or makes a dress for her new sister-in-law. So the couple play the leads in their own tragedy, their doomed trajectory a Liebestod (consummation of love in death) worthy of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde; though it is actually Puccini’s aria One Fine Day that Esther sings as the verdict is read out in court. Perhaps the most shocking moments surround that embrace in the police van, which have Jakob describe the horrific details of “frying” in the electric chair.

Ethel Rosenberg’s brother was implicated in betraying the couple and Phillips’ art imitates life here. David Girshfeld, Esther’s brother, begins as a serving soldier courting his fiancée, full of optimism for the future when the newlyweds discover they are expecting. Shocking events impact on the couple to give him a motive for “shopping” his brother-in-law, even though he is implicated in the theft. Sean Rigby and Eva-Jane Willis are touching in the contrast between their fierce joy and angry despair.

Arrested and tried, what dooms the Rubensteins is the febrile atmosphere of paranoia and hatred in America thanks to the McCarthy hearings, the witch hunt for Reds under the bed, which of course makes antisemitism explicit. Indeed, the couple reference Arthur Miller and his play The Crucible, which uses the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for McCarthyism. It is left to Stephen Billington’s entirely believable FBI Agent Paul Cranmer – his hard, uncompromising exterior belying his humanity – to try to throw Jakob a lifeline. It is not a spoiler to reveal that he refuses to take it. In the current atmosphere of social media trolling and abuse and the vicious polarity caused by divisive issues including Brexit, Trump, the rise of the far right, antisemitsm and islamophobia, Maxwell’s thoughtful take on the implications of this tragic story is once again all too timely.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Scott Rylander

The Rubenstein Kiss runs until Saturday 13 April. 7.30pm, 3pm (Sat & Tue only). £22, £18 concs. Southwark Playhouse, SE1 6BD. 020 7407 0234. http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
Impressive Jewish choral music featuring Mosaic Voices with conductor and arranger Michael Etherton

The Voice of Song and Prayer, known colloquially as the ‘The Blue Book’, has been the foundation of Jewish choral music in the UK and the Commonwealth ever since it was published in London in 1899. It was originally written for mixed female and male voices – common practice in mainstream Orthodox synagogues until the early 1960s. In today’s Orthodox synagogues, tenors take the soprano and tenor parts, while baritones cover alto.

Mosaic Voices is the resident choir at London’s New West End under conductor and arranger Michael Etherton. For this album, Etherton has recast the original parts of 15 carefully selected works for eight singers. Thus the choir makes the most of the full range of male voices from low bass to counter tenor with the aim of reconstructing much of the original flavour of the music for today’s listeners.

The result is an elegant succession of songs familiar to any Ashkenazi shulgoer, presented as high-art choral singing that stands up to comparison with the finest religious choral works in any tradition. Etherton coaxes exceptionally well-balanced performances from his talented group of singers and their diction is faultless.

Compare, for example, the familiar ‘Adon Olam’ by Waley with the lesser known 17th-century version by Salamone Rossi. In both,the textures and dynamics from different music traditions get due space and weight, the Rossi attractively embellished by nine choristers. From the High Holy Days music, the choir sings the evocative strains of Haim Wasserzug’s ‘Zochreinu’ and the traditional ‘Shema Koleinu’ in a tempo that allows the music to breathe and Etherton gives the individual parts equal weight.

To members of a voluntary synagogue choir, this album is intriguing and impressive, and gives us plenty to think about.

It’s refreshing to hear the ‘Hatikvah’ (Israel’s national anthem), a sort of bonus final track, sung in a high choral setting for a small choir. Most of us are used to joining in lustily at bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings. Mosaic Voices would have made the Victorian co-editors of The Blue Book, David M Davis and Rabbi Francis L Cohen, hugely proud.

By Judi (alto) and Steve (bass) Herman, who sing in Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue Choir.

Listen to excerpts and buy The Blue Book at www.mosaicvoices.net

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
Jamie Lloyd poignantly and elegantly choreographs Pinter’s relationship dance through time

Jamie Lloyd’s brilliantly successful visionary season of Pinter’s work comes to a fitting climax with the playwright’s 1978 semi-autobiographical memory play. Betrayal plays its anatomy of an adulterous relationship backwards, beginning in 1977 (two years after it has ended) and ending where it began in 1968.

In Lloyd’s elegant stripped-back production, less is more as Emma (Zawe Ashton) and her ex-lover Jerry (Charlie Cox) begin by inclining towards each other from the chairs that are almost the only furniture on Soutra Gilmour’s simple pastel-shaded set, lit with golden subtlety by Jon Clark. The pair are watched at first from behind by Tom Hiddleston’s silent, still Robert, the husband and friend they betrayed for years. The smallest movement and change of expression take on significance. Hiddleston’s face poignantly conveys the hurt seething behind Robert’s apparently calm exterior.

Yet, though infidelity is a given, if this is a dance through memory, it is choreographed for three and Robert is as much a dancer as the lovers. Publisher Robert’s relationship with his old friend Jerry, literary agent and best man at his wedding, has been a sort of bromance too, so sometimes it is Emma’s turn to sit it out while the boys meet for lunch or a game of squash. Ashton’s Emma is at once sensual and dignified, and above all vulnerable, aware of what’s at stake as she plays her different roles as wife and mother in the marital home and lover in the flat where she meets Jerry.

Cox’s Jerry is less affected by a situation of his own making, he brings a delicious, almost daring playfulness to the role in an evening surprisingly as full of laughs as it is of tension.

Pinter’s repeats are even more telling, given that the action goes backwards – that this is a memory play in reverse. Lloyd intensifies a memory of Jerry tossing his friends’ three-year-old daughter in the air by creating the moment acted out on a stage that’s now revolving (Lloyd’s addition, it’s not in the text), here all the more extraordinary because a very young performer indeed makes (presumably) her stage debut.

Lloyd does more than interpret or even channel Pinter. He seems to build this play into a sort of metaphysical experience shared by actors and audience. This is extraordinary game-changing theatre not to be missed.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Marc Brenner

Betrayal runs until Saturday 1 June. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Sat & Thu only). £15-£65. Harold Pinter Theatre, SW1Y 4DN. 084 5871 7615. www.pinteratthepinter.com

Read our reviews of the rest of the season: Pinter One & Two, Pinter Three & Four , Pinter Five & Six and Pinter Seven.

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
Inclusivity begins at home in Joshua Harmon’s blisteringly edgy comedy of embarrassment

Joshua Harmon can make you laugh and cringe simultaneously. He gives his characters space for long rants – and plenty of rope to hang themselves. In his earlier hit comedy Bad Jews, relationships come under strain when family members are forced together for their grandfather’s funeral. In Admissions the issue is getting into the ‘right’ university, which family members centre stage have on their minds on several levels.

Sherri Rosen-Mason, head of admissions at posh New Hampshire private school Hillcrest, is on a long-term crusade to increase the percentage of ethnic minority students. Her proud boast as the play opens is of an increase of 300% in the last 15 years, from 6% to 18%.

Harmon’s elegantly constructed action follows Sherri, her husband Bill – the head of Hillcrest – and teenage son Charlie, who’s about to leave the school. True to their liberal credentials, his parents may have given him the middle name Luther (think Martin Luther King), but all three anticipate top peoples’ university Yale as the next step. The flashpoints, months apart, are the stuff of the drama and all take place in the family’s fashionably open-plan kitchen. Played out on Paul Wills’s detailed naturalistic design, these increasingly tense and argumentative scenes highlight the conflict between Sherri’s public ideals and her ambitions for Charlie.

As Sherri, Alex Kingston blazes with righteous indignation from the get-go, taking unfortunate gopher Roberta (excellent Margot Leicester) to task for failing to include enough photos of students of colour to reflect Hillcrest’s ethnic diversity in the latest school brochure. Audience toes might well start to curl as they pore over the brochure, counting heads in photos of students at work and play and Roberta is sent back to the drawing board.

Comfortable in her self-righteousness, Sherri rejoices with best friend and fellow liberal Ginnie (pitch-perfect Sarah Hadland) at the news that her son Perry, bestie of Sherri’s son Charlie, has got into Yale. The seed of discomfiture is planted though, as Sherri and equally complacent husband Bill (suitably abrasive Andrew Woodall) await news of Charlie’s application. By this time Harmon has slipped in that Perry is mixed race and Charlie “technically Jewish” through his mum.

So some months down the line, as Alex and Ben toast each other at achieving 20% diversity at Hillcrest, it’s not difficult to guess their bubble is about to burst. Nothing, though, could anticipate the eruption into their celebrations of the fireball of wounded indignation and disappointment that is Charlie, fresh from hearing his application to Yale has been deferred. Two hours alone screaming in the woods, far from calming him down, have psyched him up. Further humiliated by Perry’s successful application, he is in paranoiac overdrive.

The tirade that follows is wildly funny, acutely embarrassing and brilliantly paced by Ben Edelman, reprising his role of Charlie from the play’s New York production. His fevered dissection of diversity leads him to the conclusion that there is a hierarchy of who is “a person of colour” where Hispanics trump Jews so that “Jews are way down the pecking order”, behind “grandsons of Nazis who ran off to South America”, climaxing hysterically with “Spanish conquistadors instead of corpses in Auschwitz”.

A shocked Sherri articulates her self-deprecating dismay with “looks like we’ve successfully raised a Republican”, while his unsympathetic father brands him a “spoilt little overprivileged brat”. If it’s harder to predict where Harmon might go from there, suffice it to say that in subsequent months Charlie displays an ability to volte-face that piles on the discomfiture both onstage and in the audience.

It’s clearly a careful authorial decision for Perry to remain offstage, perhaps because it’s white guilt and paranoia Harmon is examining, perhaps a piling on of irony in the light of Alex’s attempts to reflect diversity in her brochure. It could also be a quieter, more subtle way for Harmon to puncture complacency in a play that is loud and, at 100 minutes, succinct.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Johan Persson

Admissions runs until Saturday 25 May 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Thu & Sat only). From £30. Trafalgar Studios, SW1A 2DY. www.atgtickets.com/venues/trafalgar-studios

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
The Marx Brothers meet Gilbert and Sullivan in the spookily topical Gershwin Brothers musical

Last week saw the American ambassador to the UK using strangely combative language in defence of US chlorine-washed chicken and yet another awkward love-in/stand-off between his current boss and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. So this 1927 collaboration between the Gershwin Brothers and Marx Brothers script writer George S Kaufman turns out to be uncomfortably topical satire. Hats off then to Alces Productions and director Mark Giesser for this timely revival, billed as a “musical fable of love, war and cheese”, which sticks to the biting wit of Kaufman’s book, rather than turning to a later, watered down romanticised version.

Welcome to Hurray Connecticut, home of the American Cheese Company, whose strapline is: “Saving humanity through cheese”. ACC’s proud boast is that their product has a “subtle almost imperceptible flavour”. Jolly workers channel Gilbert and Sullivan as they start their day performing energetic callisthenics to sycophantic choruses in praise of cheese and company president Horace J Fletcher. Richard Emerson’s mad martinet conjures Trump from the get go with his strident signature number ‘Typical Self-Made American’. He even has his Ivanka – daughter and heir Joan – a formidable presence in Joan Beth Burrows’ spiky portrayal.

Unsurprisingly Fletcher and his establishment cronies welcome the US president’s proposed 50% tariff on imported cheese. And surprisingly, Fletcher manages to get his country to go to war when Switzerland protests against the tariff, by sponsoring the invasion of that haven of peace.

There’s enthusiastic backing too from socialite widow Mrs Draper, patron of the City Air Movement, “for country children who have never seen a night club and only get to eat fresh food”, who has Fletcher in her sights as husband number two. Although she’s cast in the mould of Marx Brothers’ stooge Margaret Dumont, Pippa Winslow eagerly seizes the opportunity the script offers to give her rather more nous.

Making love and war are her daughter Anne, Charlotte Christensen’s cute squeaky-clean all-American ingenue, and fresh-faced factory foreman turned soldier boy Timothy Harper (Adam Scott Pringle), who likes nothing better than to swing his gal in an energetic jive.

A solitary one-man band prepared to risk disgrace and ridicule by opposing the war is our conchie hero Jim Townsend. Paul Biggin’s resourceful Jim succeeds in representing the voice of reason without coming over as the straight man. He manages to woo a reluctant Joan, stand up to Fletcher and his cronies and turn ‘war hero’. This last he owes to the bonkers antics of comedy chameleon George Spelvin, who pops up in a succession of mad guises in a standout performance from David Francis, channelling all three Marx brothers at once. Oh, and did I mention the yodelling?

See it for the quirky madcap wit of the plot and lyrics and the big brassy sound of MD Bobby Goulder’s six-strong band playing largely little known Gershwin. The jaunty title song will be familiar to many, though perhaps not the warlike lyrics and it’s a revealing treat to see much-loved Gershwin standard ‘The Man I Love’ in context.

The Gatehouse’s long narrow stage presents some problems focusing the action. I would have preferred to be able to see as well as hear the band, here obscured by screens first advertising American Cheese and then projecting Swiss Alps. With some judicious pruning (it runs at just over three hours with interval) this could be a must see.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Andreas Lambis

Strike Up the Band runs until Sunday 31 March. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat), 4pm (Sun only). £18-£20, £16-£18 concs. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, N6 4BD. 020 8340 3488. www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
A true story of hope and healing in the wake of horror becomes the musical for our fractured times

From the Canadian Jewish husband and wife writing team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away tells the incredible true story of how the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, welcomed the passengers of planes from around the world grounded by the 9/11 attacks. Onto this tiny community of about 7,000 descended, literally, the passengers and crews of every airplane diverted from American airspace in the aftermath of 9/11, almost doubling the population.

The idea of random acts of kindness is an attractive one especially at this time of confrontation and divisiveness. So the London opening of this supremely life affirming and inclusive musical seems a little miracle of timeliness. As Gander’s expansive former mayor Claude Elliott, who has seen himself portrayed by actors in more than a dozen productions to date, says: “You feel how useful this good news story is. On 9/11 we saw the worst that could happen, but around 7,000 people in that tragedy saw the best in humanity.”

In 2011 Sankoff and Hein spent a month in Gander and its Newfoundland neighbours, meeting both locals and “come from aways” (as the locals call visitors), reunited for the 10th anniversary of their enforced meeting in the wake of 9/11. From the accounts they heard they crafted this gloriously life-affirming musical, sometimes telling individual stories, sometimes conflating characters and their experiences, but always succeeding in giving their narrative total authenticity.

In director Christopher Ashley’s fast-moving fluid production, the cast of 12 come in an assortment of wonderfully normal shapes, sizes and ages, dressed for realism by costume designer Toni-Leslie James. These multitalented beings multitask, morphing in moments between Newfoundlanders and Come From Aways on Beowulf Boritt’s elegantly simple, equally versatile set, which they transform from plane cabin to café to church to scenic local beauty spot, simply by reconfiguring chairs and tables on a quick revolve.

It’s no coincidence that there is an Irish feel to the music played by MD Alan Berry’s superb eight-strong band, for Gander was largely settled by Irish immigrants. It brings the energy of a ceilidh to the show’s 100 minutes (no interval needed), adding to the seamlessness of the scene changes. It’s almost through-sung, which somehow makes the exchanges of dialogue all the more telling. Both songs and dialogue are shared with the audience as much as between cast members.

The material is beautifully shaped. Once the everyday routine of this down to earth fishing community – as argumentative as it is mutually supportive – is established with the storming opening number ‘Welcome to the Rock’, and the individual locals have made their mark, the routine is interrupted by the horrific breaking news of 9/11. The cast switch roles and furniture to become passengers and crew confined to the cabin in the grounded planes, stir-crazy after more than 24 hours and suffering unbearable tension for lack of information and communication.

Meanwhile the community struggles with the logistics of preparing to accommodate the 7,000 guests that will double the population of The Rock. The doors of schools are thrown open, supplies are donated by extraordinarily generous locals and eventually the dazed guests disembark to gradually respond to the heartwarming welcome they receive in makeshift kitchens and dormitories. At a supermarket checkout a guest is surprised and moved to be offered an invitation to a hot shower at the home of a checkout girl. Another, sent out foraging for barbecue grills, is overwhelmed by the hundreds he is offered from every backyard.

Friendships are made and cemented, notably between two women whose nearest and dearest are firefighters, a local and a grounded New Yorker; between two ‘mature’ passengers, a Brit and a Dallas lass, who fall in love; and a stranded British rabbi connecting with a Holocaust survivor who has suppressed his Jewishness until this moment of closure.






Every story is funny or moving or both and they are sensitively rounded out by the musical numbers. As that stranded mother of a New York firefighter’s request to go to a local church to pray is fulfilled, ‘Prayer’ mingles the beautiful hymn setting of the Prayer of St Francis, “Make me a channel of your peace”, with the Jewish prayer Oseh Shalom and with Muslim prayers from a stranded master chef (under much suspicion, given the origins of the terrorists).

A female pilot reveals her passion for the career she longed for from girlhood. A local woman makes it her mission to rescue and care for stranded animals, from a show dog to a pregnant ape. Each story and song stands out and contributes to the whole.

It would be invidious to pick out any of this outstanding company, so I will simply reveal that the entire audience in a sold-out house rose to its feet to applaud. Together we joined in celebration with cast and band until our hands were sore from clapping along and we filed out with huge smiles on our lips, a little fortified to face our own divided present. I urge everyone to see this to help restore faith in your fellow humans, sanity and a sense of proportion. As the programme quotes Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it ‘shines' indeed like 'a good deed in a naughty world.’

By Judi Herman

Production photos by Matthew Murphy

Portraits of cast and real life ‘Come From Aways’ by Craig Sugden

Come From Away runs until Saturday 25 May. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (Wed & Sat only). From £19.50. Phoenix Theatre, WC2H 0JP. https://comefromawaylondon.co.uk

Listen to our interview with Leivi Sudak of Edgware Lubavitch, the real-life rabbi of Come From Away, on JR OutLoud.

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
An exquisite selection of Jewish choral music given a new lease of life by a young choir

Earlier this month a sweet little debut album came courtesy of Minim Singers. Entitled Roots, it comprises seven ethereal tracks, which total at just over 13 minutes, that reimagine and revive traditional Jewish choral songs. "Our mission," explains co-chair Sophie Ross, "is to give life to the Jewish choral tradition again, bringing it to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences."

Having met within and outside of the Jewish choral community, this mixed group of 20- and 30-somethings decided to form the chamber choir in 2014. With a pool of 25 members – all from various Jewish backgrounds, as well as secular – Minim's variety is something that's also reflected in their repertoire. This ranges from Louis Lewandowksi and Salamone Rossi to contemporary Jewish choral music, the latter of which includes, Ross points out, "new arrangements of traditional Jewish music by our own members, which you can hear in our album".

Directed by Gabriel Chernick and Matthew Anisfeld, Roots starts with a tender rendition of Rossi's setting of Psalm 124, 'Shir Hama'alot'. It then effortlessly flows into Mombach's 'Halelu', before running through Goldfarb's 'Shalom Aleichem', Lewandowski's 'Tzadik Katamar' and finally closing on a moving rendition of Rossi's benediction, 'Barechu'.

While the beauty of Jewish choral music is best experienced in shul, there's something special about having it at home. Take a minute – or 13 – to relax, switch off from the world and fully immerse yourself in what Minim Singers have to offer.

By Danielle Goldstein

Photos © Minim Singers

Listen to Roots in full below and visit fb.com/minimsingers to keep up to date about their future live performances.

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The Latest Word by Danielle Goldstein - 1M ago
An exquisite selection of Jewish choral music given a new lease of life by a young choir

Earlier this month a sweet little debut album came courtesy of Minim Singers. Entitled Roots, it comprises seven ethereal tracks, which total at just over 13 minutes, that reimagine and revive traditional Jewish choral songs. "Our mission," explains co-chair Sophie Ross, "is to give life to the Jewish choral tradition again, bringing it to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences."

Having met within and outside of the Jewish choral community, this mixed group of 20- and 30-somethings decided to form the chamber choir in 2014. With a pool of 25 members – all from various Jewish backgrounds, as well as secular – Minim's variety is something that's also reflected in their repertoire. This ranges from Louis Lewandowksi and Salamone Rossi to contemporary Jewish choral music, the latter of which includes, Ross points out, "new arrangements of traditional Jewish music by our own members, which you can hear in our album".

Directed by Gabriel Chernick and Matthew Anisfeld, Roots starts with a tender rendition of Rossi's setting of Psalm 124, 'Shir Hama'alot'. It then effortlessly flows into Mombach's 'Halelu', before running through Goldfarb's 'Shalom Aleichem', Lewandowski's 'Tzadik Katamar' and finally closing on a moving rendition of Rossi's benediction, 'Barechu'.

While the beauty of Jewish choral music is best experienced in shul, there's something special about having it at home. Take a minute – or 13 – to relax, switch off from the world and fully immerse yourself in what Minim Singers have to offer.

By Danielle Goldstein

Photos © Minim Singers

Listen to Roots in full below and visit fb.com/minimsingers to keep up to date about their future live performances.

Read Full Article

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