On Tuesday evening, February 10, in a sold-out theater on Central Avenue, the curtain rose on a breathtaking scene. More than 70 fifth-eighth graders from Shulamith Middle School performed their hearts out in Twisted, a play written by Atlanta-based theater professional Rachelle Freedman. “Twisted is a story about a group of middle-school girls who are in the midst of their final dress rehearsal for a Purim play when chaos ensues. This play includes rich dramatic moments, silly comedic scenes, and Broadway-style musical parodies from Wicked,” says Sari Kahn, director of Maor Performing Arts and the director of the original production. Kahn explains, “I wanted the students to perform in a production that they would be proud to be a part of, so with the help of musical director Rebecca Gruenfeld and choreographer Mina Black, we incorporated into the script a choir, dance numbers, a gymnastics piece, and a ballet into one unifying piece.”
The outcome was nothing short of spectacular. Under the direction of Rebecca Gruenfeld, a professional pianist, singer, and composer, the choir learned three Hebrew songs with accompanying harmonies. Mina Black, an accomplished ballerina who most recently worked with Miriam Handler in her latest production in Brooklyn, choreographed dances to make the words of each song come to life.
One of the highlights of the evening was a fun-filled banquet dance where gymnasts “tossed” missing goblets through the air while dancers costumed as Persians and Jews simultaneously floated on the stage as guests of one of Achashverosh’s famous feasts. “I love bringing out the hidden talent in girls,” says Ms. Black, a Shulamith parent who runs a dance studio in conjunction with the Five Towns JCC and seamlessly brought dancers with various levels of training together in a variety of dance pieces. “I wanted every dancer to know that she has an opportunity to shine on the stage either through dance, ballet, or gymnastics and that through her own work and dedication to the process she can accomplish amazing things. I am only here to bring out the best in every one of them.”
Rebecca Gruenfeld, who has a master’s of arts in teaching, not only taught the choir and soloists the musical arrangements for the show, but as a piano and voice instructor in the Five Towns area, she also played the piano for all of the musical numbers. “I really challenged the choir to sing songs and harmonies that they did not know. I wanted them to understand that there is a wealth of beautiful Hebrew music and that they should be proud to sing it.” Ms. Gruenfeld added that she was “particularly impressed with the soloists’ hard work and dedication and in their ability to learn difficult songs from Wicked.”
Parents were beyond thrilled with the outcome of the production. Malka Davies, whose daughter Tamar was a member of the gymnastics troupe, described the performance as “the best play ever!” Another mother shared with the director that she had tears in her eyes when she watched her shy daughter transform into a confident woman on stage. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters were amazed by the level of professionalism and talent the middle school students displayed on the stage.
This production bears the precious fruits of the empowering achdut and collaboration within the Five Towns community. None of this could have happened without the guidance of the Shulamith Middle School’s administration along with its partnership with the HAFTR administration. The Shulamith administration, arts professionals, and faculty all worked together to balance the students’ rigorous rehearsal schedule while maintaining the school’s academic standards. The students therefore learned essential life skills like time-management, prioritizing, and perseverance while participating in the rehearsal process. Additionally, Allison and Blimie Chait from Shabbos Brushups Inc. volunteered their time to transform the students’ faces into the famous Purim characters from the Megillah. Moreover, because the production was staged at HAFTR high school, their friendly cooperation and assistance clearly added to the show’s success. Mrs. Billet, Shulamith Middle School’s principal, eloquently summed up the feelings of the night best when she said, “Shulamith Production night was indeed a beautiful evening. A large number of very talented students were able to showcase their talents in front of a deeply appreciative audience of women and girls. The students grew from their exposure to the gifted directors and learned skills to last a lifetime. The singing, dancing, acting, creative costumes, and charming set all contributed to a delightful and memorable performance. Thanks to all who made it possible.”
For more information on Shulamith Middle School, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org; to learn more about Maor Performing Arts and the professionals, please contact email@example.com.