BWW Review: VERBOTEN at Seventh Sister
Verboten, a play with music, had its world premiere with the Theater of Seventh Sister on March 6th, 2020. With a script written by Tyler Joesph Rossi and a handful of songs by John Rohrkemper, Verboten is a moving show about the power of friendship, the idealism of youth, and the danger of intolerance.
The plot (based on some real events) revolves around a group of German youths who gather secretly to sing, dance, and celebrate swing music, which is strictly forbidden by the Nazi regime. Based on this synopsis, I was expecting something along the lines of Footloose, but was pleasantly surprised by the sophistication and complexity of the story.
A great deal of the credit goes to the cast. Four young men, Kurt (Michael Garland), Freedom (Adam Kissinger), Beynish (Michael Sheffield), Reiner (Griffin Yeyna) and four young women, Martha (Benny Benamati), Rivka (Jules Diel), Frieda (Rachel Faust) and Emily (Katherine Rossi) make up the ensemble.
It would be unfair to try to highlight any single member since they do a consistently excellent job. Their chemistry and rapport with one another seemed extremely sincere. There was a great sense of joy and community during many of their dance numbers. The biggest compliment I can give is that it looked like they were having fun among themselves, not "putting on a show" for the benefit of an audience.
Despite the scenes of fun, there are some very heavy themes and dark tones to this show. The youth are akin to the "land of misfit toys". There were Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and other perceived threated to the Third Reich. Violence, fear, intimidation, and retribution are ongoing conflicts in this show. Sometimes the youth are victims, and other times they are the perpetrators. This adds to the show's depth.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention, local legend, John Kliemo who plays a Nazi officer and the father of one of the youth. His serves a purpose similar to the adults in the musical, Spring Awakening. While he is only one man, he represents the repression of authority. As usual Kliemo, plays his part well and makes his character well-rounded, if not a little misunderstood.
Direction by Jeremiah Miller was spot on. He used the entire space of the theater effortlessly. I was especially impressed by a pantomimed bit involving one of the cast. Both the director and actress should be congratulated for this compelling approach to a disturbing action.
Music and lyrics by John Rohrkemper was seamlessly incorporated into the show and very effective. It's a shame the titles of the songs were not included in the program. Jules Diehl's choreography was dazzling and Adam Kissinger's fight choreography was effective. This show ran on all cylinders.
In conclusion, I predict that this might be the first time this show is performed, but far from the last. The themes, the story, and the conflict are (sadly) timeless. More information about the show and Seventh Sister can be found on their website.