By Toby Klein Greenwald
Mikva the Musical: Music and Monologues from the Deep of Raise Your Spirits Theatre from Israel will be coming to the U.S. Shows for women only will be in Queens, the Five Towns, Manhattan, and Teaneck, New Jersey, June 23–30. The 90-minute show, in English, will be performed in Readers’ Theater style.
Some of the monologues are humorous, others are uplifting, and a few are emotionally moving. Stories are interspersed with songs written in parody to beloved melodies. “Popular” becomes “Purified,” sung to a newly observant bride, a lively “I Feel the Waters Move Under my Feet” is a hat tip to Carole King, and “Stand by Me” is sung to a mikva attendant, and more. (Legalities of parody adhered to.)
Mikva the Musical is performed in large homes, in halls, or in theaters for up to 200–300 women. Several of the monologues are drawn from the book Total Immersion: A Mikvah Anthology, edited by Rivkah Slonim.
Three of our four actresses present the stories of other women, but among the most moving monologues are those of Michele Gray Thaler, who tells her own stories of the challenges — and sometimes the humor — of toiveling as a disabled woman. She is an inspiration to all who meet her, and her experiences showcase a deep faith and a clever wit.
As director, I intentionally cast an eclectic crew — women who are dati-leumi (modern Orthodox), chareidi, and traditional. The vibrant discussions around our rehearsal table revealed just how complex, personal, and electrifying this topic is and explains why women of all walks of life and styles of religious observance have acclaimed this show. Thankfully, every performance is sold out in advance.
The lead singer and choreographer is Adina Feldman, a native New Yorker with a successful career as a performer in the United States and Israel. Adina has entertained everywhere from New York’s Town Hall to the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. She created three highly successful one-woman shows, and appeared on Israeli television, radio, and in movies, as well as in leading roles in dozens of musicals. Adina served as a faculty member at the Hebrew University, Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem, and now runs the Vocal Performance department and directs major musical productions at Ono Academic College at the Music School. She has released two discs of original songs titled Here You Are and Just a Girl.
Riva Schertzman, the pianist, has played for women’s theatre and music events in the U.S., England, Canada, and Israel. She studied composition under the opera composer Leonard Kastle and has recorded two instrumental CDs.
The costume designer of the troupe is Dena Buckman Davies, who has created costumes for Israeli productions of Little Shop of Horrors, A Chorus Line, Rent, Second Star to the Left, Cinderella, West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, Spring Awakening, Pippin, and In the Heights. She also works with the Michal Taylor bridal salon in Jerusalem. Joy Glicker Lieber of Bridal Secrets and Nip ‘n’ Tuck of Cedarhurst, New York, sponsored the costume design and creation.
This theater project took 12 years to become an overnight success. Myra Gutterman, with a background in improvisational theater and comedy, first approached me and asked that I join in her project called The Mikva Monologues (never produced). Together, we reinvented what morphed into Mikva the Musical. But what finally successfully catapulted this show in Jerusalem were the donations from and promotional help of women from the Five Towns — Penina Popack, Myrna Zisman, Leah Eliana Popack-Assaraf, Rebecca Rosenbaum, and Henya Storch of Storch Agency International, who is the manager of the American tour, together with Popack. Pamela Rochel Weiman of Riverdale and the ATARA organization (Torah-observant women in the performing arts) are offering organizational support. Nikki Appleman of Woodsburgh is the tour’s hospitality host.
Mikva the Musical will be performing in Queens on June 23 (hosted by Chazaq); in Lawrence on June 25 in the home of Ruki Renov; in two matinees at the National Opera America Center in Manhattan on June 26 and 27; and in Teaneck, New Jersey on the evening of June 30.
Some of the cast and crew will be leading a Shabbaton in Crown Heights on June 21–22 and then in Passaic, NJ on June 28–29. Leslie Ruder, an accomplished theater professional, is coordinating the Passaic Shabbaton. In both locations, there will be workshops and lectures on topics relating to women and mikva.
We are gratified by reactions of women from all walks of life and on a wide spectrum of religious observance. Author Gila Manolson wrote, “I laughed and cried. It was wonderful.”
Scholar and author Professor Susan Handelman said, “The show displayed the full complexity of emotions…with gentility, sensitivity…wisdom and love. You conveyed the material in a deeply spiritual way that encompassed all its raw honesty…and passion ….Thank you for your warmth, your love for Torah, your unique abilities to … give expression to the soul of Jewish women, to give them comfort, challenge, hope, and humor … Just as a woman emerges from the waters of mikva purified and new, so did I feel as I left the performance.”
OB-GYN Dr. Hava-Yael Schreiber noted, “I was very moved…Very professional, excellent quality show.”
Ilana Dreyer stated, “What an amazing show! (And I’m a gal who lived in Manhattan for 30 years and saw any number of off-Broadway productions.) Mikva the Musical brought to the stage the richness … and humanity of every aspect of being a woman, and the amazing support that can potentially come from the mitzvah of mikva.”
Fern Reiss, CEO, JewishSpeakersBureau.com, called it “Poignant and hysterical.”
Daniella Robinson exclaimed, “It was absolutely wonderful! The music, acting, and content were excellent…Mikva has a special spot in my heart. Prior to making aliyah, I was the president of the West Hartford mikva for four years…Many of the monologues spoke to me because these topics were actually discussed during the many interviews I conducted with potential mikva attendants during my tenure…I hope you are able to bring this musical to other communities across Israel and the U.S.”
Laurie Novick, yoetzet halachah (halachic advisor to women on issues of mikva): “The show was remarkable in bringing a sense of that broader story to the wider community…I am confident that the audience left the show with a deeper understanding of other women’s journeys and felt inspired by the depth of commitment to this mitzvah.”
Barbara Sofer, journalist for the Jerusalem Post and Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, wrote, “Prepare for a night of surprises. This is the most nuanced show you’ll see this season—if you’re a woman. No men allowed. The subtitle of the show is ‘Music and Monologues from the Deep.’ That’s supposed to be funny—and it is—but the show is indeed deep…Mikva lore is full of stories of women who traveled great distances or who broke holes in ice in order to immerse. Indeed, Mikva the Musical has its own takeoff on this theme called ‘Dipping in Aruba.’ But heroism comes in many forms, as you’ll see when Mikva the Musical plays in a location near you.”
The cast and crew of Mikva the Musical believe in outreach to the community. On June 3 they recently performed in southern Israel, in Kiryat Gat, to help raise money to repair their mikva that was severely damaged by a rocket from Gaza on the night of May 4, 2019. The mikva lady was less than a minute away when the rocket struck, and she was miraculously spared.
- Website: MikvatheMusical.com
- Tickets: Purchase at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mikva-the-musical-us-tour-tickets-62932019364 (except Queens)
- Tickets, Queens Chazaq: Purchased at Chazaq, 718-285-9132
- For More Details: contact Toby Klein Greenwald, director and co-producer at 972-523-822104, firstname.lastname@example.org; Henya Storch, American Tour coordinator, 862-206-9978, email@example.com; or Shira Dicker, Creative Communication and Productions, Shira Dicker Media Int’l, 917-403-3989, firstname.lastname@example.org