Our friends make us strong! Tyrants beware!

All of Berkeley’s non crypto-Jews turned out for the opening of Brundibar tonight at the Berkeley Rep. Brundibar is the darkly cheerful musical collaboration of Czech libretticist Adolf Hoffmeister and Jewish composer Hans Krasa back in 1930’s Prague. It was performed 55 times by the children of Terezin (who shuffled through the roles on their way to the gas chambers of Auschwitz) and was famously performed for the International Red Cross on its merry little tour of the camps. Krasa also died at Auschwitz.
The show lay dormant for these last 60 years and was taken up for the stage this year by Jewish dreamboat and troublemaker Tony Kushner (who adapted the book) and Maurice Sendak (who designed the production.) The staging is based on their 2003 children’s book adaptation, which is quite good. I noticed the other night that it’s available at City Lights, and I’m sure a bookseller nearer to you. I strongly recommend it for any kids you know.
The show was good, if not deeply impactful per se. It runs a tight, boisterous 40 minutes, complete with wildly colorful costumes, a hammish stilt-walking organ-grinder villain, dozens of adorable multiracial kids from Berkeley and some terrific operatic voices. The show is light and fun and makes you giggle at the antics of performers dressed like owls, cats, milkmen and earnest Czech children.
Then you think about the child actors of Terezin who originated the roles, and your laughter feels awkward.
(Talk about awkward, my friend overheard one of the show’s black, pre-teen, girl actors saying at the afterparty, “I wish *I* was Jewish!” Presumably for all the great musical theater opportunities. Someone get this girl a copy of Gypsy.)
To the disappointment of this stalker, Kushner wasn’t at the opening (he’s purportedly in LA doing last minute fixes on Spielberg’s Munich, and good luck to him), but I had a chance to chat with artistic director Tony Taccone. He explained the odd selection of Berkeley for the show’s premiere: apparently New Haven’s theater community could not raise the money for the show in time due to wariness about the material. New Haven’s loss was Berkeley’s gain and the show will travel to New Haven next, followed by runs in other cities. Adorable multiracial children will be cast locally in each production.

3 thoughts on “Our friends make us strong! Tyrants beware!

  1. I saw Maurice Sendak give a talk (about Brundibar among other topics) and found him to be entirely uninspiring. He fancies himself part of the “greatest generation” and spoke disparagingly about more recent movements in the arts and literature.

  2. I saw the show to – thought that the set and the fish costumes were cool but otherwize zzzzzzzz. Reasonable people can disagree…

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