Lewis And Shirley White Theatre at The J & The Culture House to Present VILNA: A RESISTANCE STORY This Month

The show will open on Saturday, April 22 (7:30 p.m.) for a six-performance run.

By: Apr. 08, 2023
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Lewis And Shirley White Theatre at The J & The Culture House to Present VILNA: A RESISTANCE STORY This Month

An exciting new work of theatre will burst onto the local arts scene in April with the musical "Vilna: A Resistance Story" - a partnership production by The Lewis and Shirley White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City (The J) and The Culture House.

The show will open on Saturday, April 22 (7:30 p.m.) for a six-performance run. Subsequent performance dates include Thursday April 27 (7:30 p.m.); Saturday April 29 (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday April 23 and 30 (2 p.m.) and Sunday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are now available at TheWhiteTheatre.org.

Not coincidentally, "Vilna" opens the weekend immediately after Yom HaShoah (April 17-18), Holocaust Remembrance Day, a commemoration dedicated to remembering the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

"Vilna: A Resistance Story" shares the little-known story of the heroic Jewish resistance movement in the Vilna Ghetto during World War II and the Nazi occupation. A musical of heroic resistance and the fight for dignity by Jewish partisans against oppression, "Vilna" will both inspire and educate audiences. In the musical, 19-year-old Vitka Kempner, headstrong and hellbent on fighting the Nazis, arrives in the bohemian city of Vilna eager to join a resistance movement. But when the local artists dismiss her warnings and are suddenly confined to the ghetto, creative resistance isn't enough for Vitka, who is determined to do what she came to do: fight back.

"Vilna" marks the first collaboration between The White Theatre and The Culture House. It is the second production in The White Theatre's New Works initiative, following last year's inaugural production of "Surviving Hitler". The original story, concept and music for the show were created by The Culture House New Works Director Kevin Cloud, with the book by Lisa Kenner Grissom. Additional story elements were created by Allison Cloud and additional music and lyrics by Greg LaFollette. David Witnitsky is the director of this production, leading a cast of local performers for this initial run of "Vilna".

"It's been great to collaborate with Kevin and Culture house on this project," said Keith Wiedenkeller, Managing Artistic Director of The White Theatre. "Supporting the creation of a brand-new musical has been a challenging experience, but well worth it in order to tell this inspiring story in a new and creative way."

Kevin Cloud's inspiration for "Vilna" A Resistance Story" came about three years ago after he read an online story about a songwriter from Vilna. The song became an anthem for partisan fighters all over Europe.

"I was so moved by the idea that this songwriter, in the middle of the worst circumstances imaginable, continued to believe that his creative work could make a difference in the world," Cloud said. "I loved the idea that a song really did make a difference, it gave people hope and inspiration. I started researching Vilna and just fell in love with this city and all the remarkable stories of resistance that happened there."

Cloud said "Vilna" is different from many Holocaust tales that often depict Jews as only victims.

"This is a story of Jews who rose up and resisted their Nazi oppressors in heroic ways," Cloud said. "This is a story that is about life, about hope, about always resisting the darkness no matter how bleak things might seem. The people in this story believed that their lives and their work could make a difference, even when it felt hopeless."

However, as the Cloulds are not Jewish, it was important to the project to bring that element of diversity and authenticity to the creative team. Consequently, accomplished playwright and screenwriter Lisa Kenner Grissom was brought in to write the book for the musical, and veteran director David Witnitsky was brought in to direct the show and provide leadership throughout the development process.

"This story is so relevant for today, as we are seeing a rise in global fascism, antisemitism, and violence against women," Grissom said. "This piece features Vitka Kempner, a young Jewish woman who is a catalyst for action. She is an empowered figure, which all young women, and certainly young Jewish women, need to see more of in our culture."

Witnitsky looks forward to seeing "Vilna" up on its feet before a live audience.

"One of the reasons I am so excited about this show is that it turns some of the Holocaust narrative on its head and talks about Jews who fought - not because they were Jews, but because it was the right thing to do," he said.

Following its Kansas City run, producers will take "Vilna" to New York City for an industry reading.

Following "Vilna," The White Theatre continues its 18th season with the one-man show "Eddie: The Friendship That Changed History" on May 13 and 14, with the support of The Truman Library Institute and Kansas City Actors Theatre. The Kinnor Philharmonic -Summer Concert takes place on June 4. This season will close with the musical family favorite "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," in a four- week run July 1-23. The White Theatre season is produced by The J's Arts + Culture Department in a state-of-the-art, 500-seat performing arts community theatre. The White Theatre is both welcoming and inclusive, providing ADA accessible-seating options, access without steps, assistive listening devices, and The J's signature open captioning system at select performances, making live theatre accessible for all patrons.

The White Theatre is located at The J, 5801 W. 115th St., in Overland Park. The White Theatre box office is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well as 60 minutes before curtain on performance days.

Full descriptions and performance times for each event are available at TheWhiteTheatre.org.


Vitka Kempner - Meghan Emily Welfer
Abba Kovner - Kyle Anderson
Hirsh Glick - Joel Walley
Abraham Sutskever - Spencer Thompson
Itzhak Wittenberg - Matthew Henrickson
Liuba Levitsky - Josephine Pellow
Ruska Korzack - Elaine Clifford
Jacob Gens - Ron Meyer
Mother Bertranda - Allison Cloud
Ensemble/Female Understudy - Julia Condon
Ensemble/Male Understudy - Scott Kruse
Sarah/Ensemble - Kat Ruprecht

About The White Theatre

The Lewis & Shirley White Theatre, built in 2005, is a 500 seat, state-of-the-art venue that hosts a wide variety of performances throughout the year. Its annual theatre and concert series continues a 90+ year community theatre tradition, established in 1932, with The Resident Theatre, the region's first and longest-running community theatre. Ample free parking is available, and the theatre is entirely accessible for those of all abilities. The theatre is available for private rentals for area non-profit groups.

About The J

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City opened in 1914 in midtown Kansas City, Missouri and has grown and adapted to serve the changing needs of Greater Kansas City's Jewish and secular communities. Our mission is to build a strong, vibrant, and inclusive community that enhances wellness, meaning, and joy, based on Jewish values, heritage, and culture. We are a welcoming community that embodies Jewish values in a safe and respectful environment. People of all ages and backgrounds learn and grow at our 'home away from home.' For more information, visit TheJKC.org.


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