Underground Railway Theater to Present Tony Kushner's Adaptation of BRUNDIBAR & BUT THE GIRAFFE!, 3/6-4/6
Underground Railway Theater is proud to present Tony Kushner's adaptation of Brundibar, the Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister Opera. Brundibar will be presented with Tony Kushner's companion piece But the Giraffe! Both pieces are directed by Scott Edmiston. The press performance is Monday, March 10 at 7:30PM.
To care for their ailing mother, two children must buy milk. Penniless, they sing in the marketplace to raise money. However, evil organ grinder Brundibar has other plans. A fairytale opera for the entire family, Brundibar celebrates the triumph of the helpless over tyranny and the transformative power of art. Originally performed by children at the Terezin concentration camp, Brundibar was adapted by Pulitzer Prize Winner Tony Kushner and combined with the companion piece, But the Giraffe!
Working alongside a professional cast including Phil Berman, Christie Lee Gibson, John F. King, Rebecca Klein, Jeremiah Kissel, Patrick Varner, and Debra Wise is a Youth Ensemble cast of 30 young actors who have participated in a Brundibar pre-rehearsal training program. The training program provides an opportunity for the Youth Ensemble to learn the music, investigate characters through the historical context of Brundibar, and receive ensemble and acting lessons from the Underground Railway Theater Education staff, the production director, and professional actors. This pre-rehearsal learning opportunity also provides time for the creative team to investigate some of the most relevant themes in Brundibar and But the Giraffe!: Who are the bullies? What makes an 'upstander'?
Tickets for Brundibar & But the Giraffe! start at $20 and are currently on sale at CentralSquareTheater.org or by calling 866.811.4111.
Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister wrote Brundibar in 1938 for a government competition, which was later cancelled due to political developments. Rehearsals started in 1941 at the Jewish orphanage in Prague, which served as a temporary educational facility for children separated from their parents by the war. The opera was performed for the first time at the orphanage in the winter of 1942. July 1943, nearly all of the children of the original chorus and the orphanage staff had also been transported to Theresienstadt. Only the librettist Hoffmeister was able to escape Prague in time.
Reunited with the cast in Terezin, Hans Krása reconstructed the full score of the opera, based on memory and the partial piano score that remained in his hands, adapting it to suit the musical instruments available in the camp: flute, clarinet, guitar, accordion, piano, percussion, four violins, a cello and a double bass. On September 23, 1943, Brundibár premiered in Terezin. The production was directed by Zelenka and choreographed by Camilla Rosenbaum, and was shown 55 times in the following year. A special performance of Brundibár was staged in 1944 for representatives of the Red Cross who came to inspect living conditions in the camp; what the Red Cross did not know at the time was that much of what they saw during their visit was a show, and that one of the reasons the Terezin camp seemed comfortable was that many of the residents had been deported to Auschwitz in order to reduce crowding during their visit. Later that year this Brundibár production was filmed for a Nazi propaganda film Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (The Führer Gives the Jews City). The Brundibár footage from the film is included in the Emmy Award-winning documentary Voices of the Children directed by Zuzana Justman, a Terezin survivor, who sang in the chorus. Ela Weissberger, who played the part of the cat, appears in the film. The footage appears again in As Seen Through These Eyes, a 2009 documentary directed by Hilary Helstein. There Weissberger describes the opera in some detail, noting that the only time that the children were permitted to remove their yellow stars was during a performance.
In 2003, Brundibár was adapted into a picture book by Tony Kushner with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. Sendak emphasized the symbolism of the opera by drawing the character of Brundibár with a Hitler moustache. The book was named one of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Illustrated Books of 2003. In 2005, the book was turned into a full production of the opera, with libretto by Tony Kushner adapted from Hoffmeister's. Sendak and Kris Stone designed the sets and Robin I. Shane designed the costumes for the new production. The opera premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre where it was performed along with another short Czech opera, Comedy on the Bridge, with music by Bohuslav Martin? and libretto by Tony Kushner adapted from Václav Kliment Klicpera. The opera then moved to the New Victory Theater for its Off-Broadway New York premiere, and Comedy on the Bridge was replaced with a new Kushner play, But the Giraffe! This show was about a young girl who was faced with the difficult decision of taking either her beloved stuffed giraffe or her uncle's Brundibár score. It served as a curtain raiser for Brundibár.