Season Planning, An Insider’s Look — Part 3

Illustrations by Donald Ely

Illustrations by Donald Ely

In December 2015 we’ll present a special week-long run of a fantastic, family-friendly, festive piece (just on the heels of Hannukah and during the week of that other December holiday):

StarsOfDavid_Final_CDecember 22-December 27

Stars of David: Story to Song

Based on the book by Abigail Pogrebin, Conceived by Abigail Pogrebin and Aaron Harnick
A musical adaptation of Abigail Pogrebin’s best-selling book, Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish. A celebration of Jewish identity drawn from interviews with some of America’s most recognizable public figures, including: Gloria Steinem, Joan Rivers, Aaron Sorkin, Leonard Nimoy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and more. With original music by an all-star lineup of composers and lyricists including Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line), Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home), Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof), Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater (Spring Awakening), and Tom Kitt (Next to Normal).

Stars of David has had an interesting development history. Lead writer Abigail Pogrebin talked about her original approach to the book with the Forward in 2012:

“When Abigail Pogrebin decided she wanted to interview Jewish celebrities about their Jewish identity, even her husband was skeptical.

“I think it’s a great idea, but why would anyone talk to you?” he told her.

“I basically dove in with a prayer,” said Pogrebin, a Manhattan-based journalist and former television producer. She began with her own contacts: her onetime boss at “60 Minutes,” Mike Wallace; family friend Gloria Steinem; Leonard Nimoy, who had attended Torah study with her parents; Sarah Jessica Parker, whose husband, Matthew Broderick, had gone to Pogrebin’s grade school, and Wendy Wasserstein, who knew her literary agent and her twin sister, Robin Pogrebin, a New York Times reporter. Some 62 interviews later, Pogrebin had her book, “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish” (Broadway, 2005). Divided into short chapters, it is an unexpectedly intimate compendium of thoughts about observance, heritage, family and the State of Israel…”

From there Pogrebin worked with a team of theater artists (composers and lyricists, as well as a director and book-writer) to adapt the interviews into what was originally a book musical that was work-shopped and presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company. When the production moved to New York however, producer Daryl Roth observed, “We decided that the stories were so well told through the songs by our various composers and lyricists that it felt like a better format would be a song cycle instead of a book musical.”

Theater J presented the revue as a benefit performance in 2014. It was a spectacular evening–with special guest Ruth Bader Ginsburg present in the first row, watching her own moving story told through song.

Theater J's 2014 benefit presentation of STARS OF DAVID

Theater J’s 2014 benefit presentation of STARS OF DAVID

The show has gone through some small changes since that presentation, so our December 2015 audiences will be seeing the most updated version yet. And I’ve got to say–these songs are pretty wonderful. It’s a smart and eclectic mix of musical theater styles, from more traditional approaches (like Sheldon Harnick’s song “The Book of Norman” about Norman Lear) to witty, wordy patter songs (Michael Friedman’s “Horrible Seders” about Tony Kushner) to contemporary, indie-music influenced compositions (“The Darkening Blue” by Duncan Sheik and Stephen Sater about Kenneth Cole.)

Sadly, we’ve lost some of the luminaries whose words and stories appear in the show since we last visited the material (Leonard Nimoy and Joan Rivers) but we hope that reflecting on their lives and unique journeys is the best kind of tribute an artist can have.