THE JEWISH ADVOCATE JUNE 21, 2013
Beverly venue comes alive with ‘The Sound of Music’ NSMT production skillfully balances lighthearted scenes with darker, dramatic moments By Jules Becker James Beaman knows the power of anti-Semitism and hate all too well. “I was ostracized in public school as a Jew and as a gay,” the 47-yearold Jewish actor and Beverly native recently told The Advocate. “I was relentlessly bullied. I was a whipping boy.” The bullying became so bad that he actually entered college at the age of 15. Now Beaman is tapping into both pride of heritage and traumatic childhood memories in his return to Beverly’s North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) – after appearing in last season’s multiple Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Award-winning “Guys and Dolls” – as Max Detweiler in the company’s seasonopening revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical classic “The Sound of Music.” The busy professional performer – who originated the part of King Frederic in the Broadway-bound new musical “Frog Kiss” and played Jewish knight Sir Robin for two years in the first national tour of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” – loves the role of the music agent-producer as much as the show itself. “Max is one of those perfect character roles,” he noted. “He’s
James Beaman is Max Detweiler and Jacquelynne Fontaine is Elsa Schrader in North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “The Sound of Music.” a raconteur. He has all the laugh lines.” Beaman added of Detweiler, “He has qualities of Oscar Levant and Noel Coward. He’s very urbane and witty.” At the same time, Beaman is very aware of Max’s relative condoning of the Anschluss, the 1938 occupation and annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, referred to pointedly in the musical. “Max and Elsa (Capt. von Trapp’s would-be fiancée) represent the ambivalence of the Austrians to the Anschluss,” he offered.
Detweiler is so ambivalent about the Anschluss that he puts up with Nazi salutes. “I have to ‘Heil’ a couple of times, which as a Jew is weird,” Beaman admitted. “He says repeatedly that he’s not political. But he sees firsthand the way the Nazis strong arm people to do what they want them to do.” He also appreciates Max’s revealing conflicted feelings as antiNazi Austrian Capt. Georg von Trapp prepares to escape to Switzerland with new wife Maria and his seven children. “[Max] kind of redeems himself,” Beaman contended, “when he helps them [the von Trapps] to escape. Max unwittingly becomes the vehicle of their getting out. That sort of contradiction [between very different sides of a role] is interesting to play as an actor.” Referring to the telling secondact song “No Way to Stop It” – in which Max and Elsa advise Georg to accept the Anschluss, Beaman observed, “[Max, Elsa and most of Austria] chose to look the other way. You become a kind of silent conspirator, in a way, if you let it happen.” Speaking of that key serious side to the show, Beaman noted, “We think of it now as a family musical, but there is this message [about not
looking the other way]. Director-choreographer James Brennan clearly accentuates that seriousness in both the look of the NSMT production and the forcefulness of the performances. Audience members will find the you-are-there effect chilling as red banners with large swastikas – credit designer Jeff Modereger – unfurl in the round for the concert hall festival from which the von Trapps escape. Costume coordinator Paula Peasley Ninestein provides Nazi brown shirts, as well as smartly exaggerated ethnic outfits, for the musical competition. The buffoon-like runners-up may call to mind the deliberate satire Chaplin achieved in his brilliant anti-Nazi film “The Great Dictator.” Brennan strikingly displays the contrast between the lighthearted scenes – such as when governess Maria teaches the children songs, and the elegant waltz at the Trapp villa party – and the tougher moments of Nazi strong-arming. Lisa O’Hare – previously radiant as Eliza Doolittle in the NSMT’s affecting revival of “My Fair Lady”
– brings vibrancy to all of her songs and great spirit to the role of postulant-turned-wife Maria. David Andrew MacDonald moves convincingly from tough-love Captain to emotionally rich husband and father as Georg. Beaman sharply balances Max’s charm and wit with his alarming complacency about the Anschluss and the Third Reich. Jacquelynne Fontaine smartly underplays Elsa’s seeming indifference to the Anschluss. The actors playing the von Trapp children capture their innocence and vulnerability, and Suzanne Ishee, as Mother Abbess, delivers the stirring “Climb Every Mountain” with soaring high notes. Overall, NSMT’s wisely edgy revival is a timely reminder of the tuneful musical’s call for action against anti-Semitism and all hate. Beaman echoed that reminder: “It’s not just a frothy family show. People are going to be surprised at how dramatically potent it is.” “The Sound of Music” continues through June 23. Call (978) 232-7200 or visit nsmt.org for more information.
TORN BETWEEN HER HEART AND HER FAMILY
Local teenage actress is fully fit to be ‘King’ Sima Kasten embraces the title role in upcoming production at Brighton venue By Jules Becker Sima Kasten was born to be on the stage. “I basically wanted to act all my life,” the Natick-born and Worcester-bred 13-year-old Jewish performer recently told The Advocate. Home-schooled, save for early Judaic studies at Chabad of Westboro and a bat mitzvah, Kasten means business about the acting bug – with impressive credentials already including Oompaloompa in “Willy Wonka” and the principal role of Robber Hag in “The Snow Queen,” both with Southbridge’s Gateway Players, and ensemble work in “The Wizard of Oz” with Hardwick’s Gilbert Players. While quite serious about her craft, she admitted, “I didn’t know anything about acting; [from role to role] I learned how to play a different character and how to become that character.” Now she has landed the title role in the new Jewish Musical & Theater Enterprise ( JMTE) adaptation of “King Matiusz I The Musical,” commissioned by Cultural Center Makor, the Bnei Moshe Synagoguebased showplace in Brighton for Russian-Jewish cultural activities and events. Adapted by Russian poet-teacher Marya Deykute from a 1926 Polish children’s book by Jewish physician and educator Janusz Korczak – with a score by JMTE co-founding composer and director Leo Loginov-
Katz – “King Matiusz I” focuses on the adventures and challenges of the title hero, who becomes the monarch after the death of his father. Kasten spoke Sima Kasten about the differences between the book and the original musical and offered observations about the story and her character. “The play is loosely based on the book,” she explained. “The play itself comes down to about how a child sees the world. Matiusz wants to change the world but he is only 12 [actually 6 in the book].” In effect, Matiusz becomes a child activist who tries to institute reforms to help younger citizens. “All the children in the kingdom like the changes,” she continued. “He gives children rights [that] adults have. He gives them the right to vote.” In fact, Korzcak practiced what he preached at the Warsaw orphanage he established, forming a kind of children’s government and creating a children’s newspaper in 1926 that became a weekly attachment to a Polish-Jewish newspaper. Ultimately Korzcak’s book was thought to be as popular in Poland as “Peter Pan” in Englishspeaking countries.
Kasten also noted elements of humor in the musical; for example, “Some of the kids want ice cream for breakfast.” Matiusz has three guardians who support him, but eventually conflicts arise with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of War. The child king struggles to remove adult corruption and restore tranquility for all ages. Where Matiusz was later overthrown by three foreign armies and exiled from his kingdom, Korczak would choose to remain with the children he taught and mentored. He was executed along with them at Treblinka in 1942. As they left Warsaw, Poland, one of the children was seen carrying the green flag associated with King Matiusz in the book. Kasten quickly warmed to the musical. “I love the show,” she remarked. “I think it’s got a really good story.” As for playing a male and the title character, she noted, “They’re probably going to braid my hair” and said she was looking forward to singing three solos. The busy teenager plans to pursue her passion for theater. This summer, she will be audition for more stage work. “I really do love acting,” she said. ”If I could do what I love for my career, that would be my dream.” Visit www.centermakor.org or www.kingmatiusz.com for more information about the show.
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