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Review: WITNESSES at CCAE Theatricals is inspiring, heartbreaking, and not to be missed

Review: WITNESSES at CCAE Theatricals is inspiring, heartbreaking, and not to be missed

Playing through July 30th

CCAE Theatricals brings the world premiere of WITNESSES to stage through July 30th and this inspiring, heartbreaking, and ambitious work is not one you want to miss.

Yitskhok Rudashevski, Renia Spiegel, Dawid Rubinowicz, Eva Heyman, and Moshe Ze'ev Flinker are the diarists whose ages range from 12 to 18 years old. The excellent original musical brings the words of these five teenagers during the Second World War to the stage with empathy, and thoughtfulness, and vividly brings to life their fierce determination and courage.

Conceived by Jordan Beck, the Managing Producer of Theatrical Productions for CCAE, who is also a lyricist for some of the music, and directed by CCAE's Artistic Director J. Scott Lapp the show works so well because of an incredibly talented group of performers, and the music which was designed to give each diarist their own voice.

Austyn Myers portrays Yitskhok, Camille Umoff depicts Renia, Giovanny Diaz De Leon portrays Dawid, Afra Sophia Tully is Éva, and Kai Justice Rosales is Moshe. All are supported by a powerful ensemble including Ian Dembek, Hannah Frederick, and Katherine Paladichuk, with David Landis and Priya Richard as swings.

The show weaves their stories together, starting with their early diary entries and the everyday ordinary things they are experiencing like dreaming of their future goals, first love, and trouble with parents. This allows the audience to understand them a bit before things escalate to wearing the yellow Star of David, hiding, or being moved to a ghetto. As each situation takes another turn each writer hopes that it will get better, as they try to make some good out of increasingly fraught situations.

Review: WITNESSES at CCAE Theatricals is inspiring, heartbreaking, and not to be missed

The music and lyrics were written with each teenager in mind, allowing their voices and their stories to feel individual. The combination of the songs and the book written by Robert L. Freedman creates a cohesive storyline while allowing each distinct voice to come through.

With music and lyrics by Matt Gould, Myers shines as Yitskhok who is both devastated and defiant, showcased in both "We Are Here" as he attends school in the ghetto they have been moved to, and in "Trip to the Butcher" set waiting in line for rations.

Camille Umoff as Reina with music by Anna K. Jacobs is full of love and hope. In the beginning, she is funny and slightly neurotic with"If I Let Him Read It" as Reina dares wonder what her sweetheart would think if he read her diary and later offers tender reflection and hope for her mother who is somewhere far away.

DeLeon as Dawid, who has music by Gerald Sternbach, with lyrics by Jordan Beck, brings the youth and curiosity of the 12-year-old, turning the search for food to survive into a kind of game in "Fox In The Field."

Tully as Éva with music by Carmel Dean, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, shows a lot of nuances as she goes from a young girl who wishes for many things in "Dear Diary" to a dignified and somber recount of her last moments in "On That Day."

Rosales as Moshe, with songs by Adam Gwon is another that shows the maturity forced upon the teenagers during this time, first being frustrated trying to balance hiding his identity and honing his lackluster abilities in "The Typing Song", and then later warier and questioning from the things he has witnessed, Moshe pointedly asks the audience "What Will You Do?"

Directed by J. Scott Lapp with sensitivity and directness that allows the stories and emotions to come through clearly, and never falls into a musical cliche by overplaying the pathos, works with the excellent movement and choreography by Natalie Iscovich. All supported by Kisa LeMay who conducts an excellent seven-piece orchestra and Jon Fredette'ssounddesign/.

The scenic design by Matthew Herman creates a large and imposing space that utilizes a turntable, some trap doors, a door frame, and a bookshelf that allows for both specificity and fluidity between scenes. Projections by Andrew Nagy, and lighting by Zach Blane enhance the scenic design.

At 90-minutes this one act could be edited a bit more tightly, as there is some repetition between stories, and the beginning feels a touch slow as everything builds to what felt like a natural ending but then continued on.

WITNESSES is a hopeful, and bittersweet work that brings the worlds and words of these teenagers to life. It is both entertaining and enlightening while highlighting the bravery of these teenagers as they faced extraordinary circumstances.

How To Get Tickets

You can see WITNESSES through July 30th at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. For ticket and showtime information you can call (800) 988-4253 or go to

Photo Credit: The cast of WITNESSES from CCAE Theatricals - Photos by Ken Jacques.

From This Author - E.H. Reiter

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