Friday, October 18, 2013

Don't miss Signs of Life at Victory Gardens Theatre; Runs through October 27

Signs Of Life is a story that must be told, and it's never been told quite this way before. "It is an
important story because it was an event of tremendous importance to Jewish, European, and Western history, and as such, is still important today, in knowing who we are and where we come from," said librettist Peter Ullian. "That said, living in a time as fraught as ours, a time of peril, violence, authoritarianism, sectarianism and genocide, a story about people trying to hold on to what makes them human, to bear witness to horror, and to struggle to make difficult moral choices, has a strong contemporary resonance."

"It's a story about what it's like to be caught in a web of tyranny and deception, and what people do mentally and emotionally to survive it; we want people to see it not only as a Holocaust story, but as a human story," said Virginia S. Criste, creator.

The inception of the musical began when Criste chose to visit the ghetto Theresienstadt, located in what was then Czechoslovakia, to learn more about her grandparents, who spent their last days there. At that time, there was only a small exhibit and a depository of artifacts that they allowed her to view in the company of a Museum official. "Spending a day with the remnants of hand-drawn posters announcing show performances, cabaret tickets, albums of dorm life, and so much more was hard to forget," stated Criste.

Leaving Theresienstadt, Criste continued to think about the inhabitants of the ghetto, not just of the horrors they faced, but also about how they strove to keep music and theatre alive as a vital part of their captivity. She commissioned composer Joel Derfner, lyricist Len Schiff and librettist Peter Ullian to come together and shape the musical, with direction by Jeremy Dobrish.

Writing a musical about captives living in a ghetto during the Holocaust is not an easy task; the authors had to take a heartbreaking time in world history and turn it into a human story, a story infused with the life, spirit, and even humor of the people who lived these events. "When I describe it to people, they often think it sounds terrible," said director Jeremy Dobrish. "But if you actually think about it, they say that with musicals, the characters, happy or sad, should sing when the emotions are so big that speaking just isn't enough. And what situation could there be where the emotions are more heightened than this?"

And when people see Signs Of Life, they see the emotion and humanity of this piece. "We got very positive feedback from our first regional production at the Village Theatre in Washington. I think people were very moved by it, and interested in the story," continued Dobrish.

As a ghetto filled with artists, musicians and thespians, among others, a great deal of artwork arose from Theresienstadt that still exists today. Signs Of Life incorporates a number of pieces from the original artwork. "We want to use the visuals available to us to help tell the story," commented Criste.

Signs of Life - A New Musical, runs through October 27 at Victory Gardens Zacek McVay Theatre. The show is produced by Virginia S. Criste and Snap-Two Productions in association with Joan P. Rubenfeld. It is directed by Lisa Portes. Music is by Joel Derfner and lyrics are by Len Schiff. The book is by Peter Ullian.

Tickets are $45 to $65 and may be purchased at the Victory Gardens box office here or by calling 773.871.3000.

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