Imagine This A 2008 British Musical
This was the official website for the 2008 musical, Imagine . Although the characters in the musical are fictional, the situation is based on real events in Warsaw during the Second World War. The content below is from outside reviews.
This show closed on 20 December 2008.
The action takes place inside a former train depot in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942. A Jewish theatrical family seeks refuge there and prepares to put on a play, hoping that the audience will use their imagination to forget the miserable conditions for a while. The story of Jewish resistance against the Romans at the desert fortress of Masada has parallels with their own desperate situation.
The following are the main characters in the musical:
The Warshowsky family:
Daniel Warshowsky: Head of a Polish theatre company ; married to Hannah
Rebecca: Daniel's daughter ; Leon: Daniel's 10 year old son
Sarah: Daniel's sister ; Max: Sarah's husband
Adolph: Father of Daniel and Sarah
Other members of the theatrical company are:
Izzy: a comic from Berlin ; Otto: a German film actor ; Lola: a chorus girl ; Jan: the son of a Rabbi ; Jacob: a young Polish actor
Other main characters:
Adam: a young Polish resistance fighter
Captain Blick: the leader of a group of Nazi soldiers who patrol the ghetto
The main roles in Masada (the play performed within the ghetto) are as follows [the actors playing the roles are shown in brackets]:
Eleazar [Daniel]: the leader of a group of Jewish rebels
Tamar [Rebecca]: Eleazar's daughter
Aaron [Jan]: a Jewish rebel who is captured by the Romans
Silva [Adam]: Roman general
Caesar [Adolph]: Roman emperor
Pompey [Izzy]: a slave who hides his Christian beliefs
Rufus [Otto]: Caesar's tribune (representative) in Judaea
A Beth Trachtenberg, Anita Mann, Leigh Mason, Jean Mason, Finefish Entertainment, Marlynn Scully, ICW Prods. presentation, in association with Theater Royal Plymouth, of a musical in two acts with book by Glenn Berenbeim, music by Shuki Levy, lyrics by David Goldsmith. Directed by Timothy Sheader. Musical direction, James McKeon. Choreography and movement direction, Liam Steel.
Sets, Eugene Lee; costumes, Ann Hould-Ward; lighting, Tim Mitchell; sound, Terry Jardine, Nick Lidster; hair and wigs; David H. Lawrence; fight direction, Renny Krupinski; musical supervisor, Phil Bateman; orchestrations, Chris Walker; production stage manager, Maggie Mackay. Opened Nov. 19, 2008. Reviewed Nov. 18. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.
Daniel, Eleazar - Peter Polycarpou Rebecca, Tamar - Leila Benn Harris Adam, Silva - Simon Gleeson Jan, Aaron - Steven Serlin Izzy, Pompey - Michael Matus Max, Jeremiah - Sevan Stephan Sarah, Naomi - Sarah Ingram Adolph, Old Man - Bernard Lloyd Lola, Salome - Cameron Leigh Otto, Rufus - Gary Milner Blick - Richard Cotton Leon - Nathan Attard Jamie Davis Alexander Kalian Jacob - Marc Antolin Hannah - Rebecca Sutherland
With: Rachael Archer, Stuart Boothier, Oliver Brenin, Michael Camp, Joel Elfernik, Bob Harms, Paul Iveson, Roy Litvin, Aoife Nally, Grant Neal, Vincent Pirillo, Carrie Sutton, Gemma Sutton, Lucy Thatcher. Musical numbers: "The Last Day of Summer," "Imagine This," "Masada Prologue," "Rufus' Letter to Caesar," "Free," "When He Looked Into My Eyes," "Salome's Lament," "Hail," "No More," "Free" (reprise), "Rebels' Prayer," "Masada," "I Am the Dove," "Hail" (reprise), "Far From Here, Far From Now," "To Touch a Cloud," "The Last Laugh," "Don't Mind Me," " Writing on the Wall," "I Surrender," "Far From Here, Far From Now," (reprise) "Passover Prayer," "The Choice," "To Touch a Cloud" (reprise), "Imagine This" (reprise).
What to say about … Imagine This
Mark Espiner The Guardian
Friday 21 November 2008
A West End musical about the Holocaust has horrified the critics, but will you choose to play devil's advocate? Here's how to hone your stance using the reviews
The Nazis' persecution of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, set to songs in a high-kicking musical? Even you with your huge experience of boundary-pushing avant-garde experimentalism were taken aback by the bravado of Imagine This, even if it did remind you fleetingly of Mel Brooks' The Producers. Unlike that comedy caper, this show had not been on your theatre to-do list. But the sheer incongruity of form and content - and the media buzz around it - means you simply must have something to say about it.
The reviews you've picked up on are almost unanimously appalled, but now that John McCain has left the stage perhaps it's time to don the costume of The Maverick and take the opposing view.
"In comparison with cynical take-the-money-and-run jukebox musicals or the slavish theatrical recreation of old movies, Imagine This has a certain integrity about it," you declare, hoping no one else has read Charles Spencer in the Telegraph. "There are big soaring anthems," you add, "a strong love interest, and a plot that undoubtedly grips. The production values, though far from extravagant, are effective enough, and though there are no star names, the performances are impressive."
Having stunned your friends with your free-thinking, it's time to subvert your stance. This show, you say, "bums a ride on the Holocaust". If anyone is aghast at your choice of words, say the celebrated director Peter Hall coined that phrase, which perfectly fits "shows and films like this", that have "the glibbest, and most suspect way of endowing second-rate art with an air of moral significance". Now let your real distaste show, too, as Michael Billington does in the Guardian by saying that "the romantic sentiment and uplift inherent in the musical sit uneasily with a story of not just heroic resistance but starvation, suffering and the death of more than 100,000 Polish Jews".
The plot, though, is "refreshingly bold" (Times) in the way that it tries to dovetail two stories. It works with the play within a play idea where the Ghetto's theatre company attempts to put on a musical about Masada, the fortress in AD73 Judea where 900 Jewish zealots committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. There's an incongruity here too, though, you observe, since it's hard to believe that "the Nazis would sanction a show about Masada even though they are assured 'It's got singing, dancing and all the Jews die in the end'." (Guardian).
That last line proves your point that the script has a "clunkiness" that "never goes" which you learned from Benedict Nightingale in the Times. Then continue: "I won't tell you how this turns out, only that it comes with a lot of stuff about dark eyes burning through me and how deep eyes somehow knew me. The lyricist, David Goldsmith, may have the chutzpah to rhyme nature with nomenclature, but he can be pretty slushy too," you say. And as for the line "Never look a gift whore in the mouth", directed at the fur-coated informant played by Cameron Leigh - well, that was just "screaming for red pencil", as Michael Coveney said in his WhatsonStage review.
And the music? No distinctive Polish folk rhythms but instead the "pap world of internationalised pop" (Guardian).
You've had enough of discussing this piece now and bring all arguments to a close. In short, you say, this "manipulative and morally dubious show" (Telegraph) had you "grinding your teeth in despair" (Guardian) and ultimately it's "something nobody should have imagined" (Times).
Don't say: War(saw), what is it good for?
Imagine This, New London Theatre, London
Sunday 23 November 2008
Could it get worse at the New London than Gone with the Wind? It could. And it just did. Imagine This is a Holocaust musical that makes Springtime for Hitler look like The Sound of Music. You can have bad taste and call it laughter in the dark, but it's something else when Peter Polycarpou's ghetto leader Daniel staves off the evil moment with a string of Jewish jokes, such as the one about the boy who tells his mother he's playing a Jewish husband in the school play. He's pleased. She's not. "Tell them you want a speaking part," she fumes.
Laugh? I nearly died, whereas the Warsaw Jews actually did, just like the zealots who fled burnt-out Jerusalem and defied the Romans by committing mass suicide on the rock at Masada. The presentation of the play runs parallel with the violence in the ghetto, some of which is deeply unpleasant.
Before the interval, the Nazi chief interrupts with good news as we make our way to the bars. What could it be? We don't have to come back? The drinks are free? No, it's a promise of bread and jam and a free train ride if we only take one suitcase. As the resistance fighter Adam (who doubles as a Roman waverer) knows all about Treblinka, the outcome, as they say, is never in doubt.
The Masada play takes us to Rome where Bernard Lloyd's Caesar issues the massacre instruction and his general declares that the soldiers must be hailed, or the zealots will be nailed. Hailed or nailed, what's it to be?
One hates to be inhospitable, but the show comes from America with minimal creative provenance. The music has some predictable and over-used harmonic shifts, a catchy rhythmic lilt to the title song, a brow-beating intensity to "Masada", and that's it. Did no-one think to put a klezmer band on stage or research the songs of the ghetto?
I liked Simon Gleeson's febrile, attractive Adam, but Leila Benn Harris's Rebecca is an annoying "West End" performance. The excellent Michael Matus has a comic turn as a sacrificial victim and Polycarpou consolidates his leading man status with dignity, passion and a fine baritonal tenor voice.
Director Timothy Sheader arranges some impressively tough-to-watch sequences, such as the slow-motion suicide pact and the elisions between backstage on the show and full occupation of Eugene Lee's imposing warehouse design of steel girders and broken windows. The show looks good. But do me a favour, spare me the schmaltz.
Review: ‘Imagine This’
David Benedict Variety
NOVEMBER 19, 2008
Criticizing "Holocaust," playwright Dennis Potter dismissed the argument that the 1978 miniseries was moving. If you couldn't make the murder of 6 million Jews moving, he retorted, you shouldn't be working in television. "Imagine This," the heartfelt new musical set during the last days of the Warsaw Ghetto, is no different.
Criticizing “Holocaust,” playwright Dennis Potter dismissed the argument that the 1978 miniseries was moving. If you couldn’t make the murder of 6 million Jews moving, he retorted, you shouldn’t be working in television. “Imagine This,” the heartfelt new musical set during the last days of the Warsaw Ghetto, is no different. The inevitable final scenes of Timothy Sheader’s skilled, uncynical production have both restraint and power, but not enough to overcome the preceding obstacles thrown up by its writers’ handling of the highly sensitive — and hard-to-sell — subject.
Book writer Glenn Berenbeim has saddled the proceedings with a difficult double structure: It’s a tuner-within-a-tuner.
Set amid the Jewish ghetto’s barely tolerated theater troupe, the story takes place largely on the night in 1942 before they’re shipped out to what they believe is a sunny labor camp. The group’s director Daniel (a quietly touching Peter Polycarpou) persuades them that, as a gesture of hope, they should stage a musical about Masada, the besieged hill fortress where, in year 70, a Jewish community of 960 refugees held 10,000 Roman soldiers at bay before committing collective suicide.
Plot parallels abound, and not just in the links between Romans and Germans wielding fatal power over the oppressed.
Quick-witted Daniel has saved and hidden non-Jewish political firebrand Adam (Simon Gleeson) among his actors. Daniel’s previously dutiful daughter Rebecca (Leila Benn Harris) and Adam fall in love, a development made plain when Rebecca, now acting as defiant Jewish girl Tamar, sings “When He Looked in My Eyes” about the handsome Roman general played, yes, by Adam.
So far, so “West Side Story.” But that show’s meshing of book, music and lyrics is so tight that when the hero and heroine fall for each other in a mere six lines of dialogue, auds believe them because the dramatic setup is so vivid and the writing so distinctive. Not so here.
For all the good intentions, tension barely surfaces all night. The problem is not just that almost everyone knows the ultimate ending but that the schematic and predictable writing barely elicits a single surprise.
With two plots to populate, an entirely committed cast struggles to lift their roles beyond stock types of the cowardly clown, the actress who’ll sell herself to keep a fur coat, the suffering wife. None but Daniel, however, is afforded stage time sufficient to allow auds to connect with and care for them.
Writing problems extend to the score. Even though one character sings ironically of “a penchant for schmaltz,” David Goldsmith’s lyrics are largely free of it. But, like the music by Israeli composer Shuki Levy, they lack the spark of individuality.
Levy is most at home supplying power ballads of love and defiance. But for all their carefully repeated chord patterns, or rather because of them, they feel generic. His use of wistful regret is not exactly a distant cousin to “Sunrise, Sunset” from the superior “Fiddler on the Roof,” while his minor key uplift moments echo “Close Every Door” from “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
That the songs sometimes hit home is largely due to Chris Walker’s strong orchestrations for a 14-piece band and, particularly, the richness of the multipart vocal arrangements; this is definitely a show at its best when ditching individual hackneyed characters to focus on the entire community.
Tim Mitchell’s immensely versatile and evocative lighting works wonders with Eugene Lee’s unchanging but arresting set of a dilapidated train shed. Helmer Sheader also encourages Liam Steel’s boldly stylized choreography to escape the literal confines of the script. Yet the earnest attempt at scale is the show’s undoing.
There is a fundamental mismatch between the need for the bombast of a hit musical and the opening number that introduces us to a sweetly struggling theater troupe with almost no resources. The resulting Masada musical they stage has such wildly overblown production values and sentiments that the evening tips over into being “Les Misbegotten.”
Sadly, we’ve been here before, and better. Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 movie “To Be or Not to Be,” another actors-defy-the-Nazis-drama, scored highly by daring to be genuinely funny. More pertinently, Joshua Sobol’s 1984 play “Ghetto” used documentary evidence and songs from the Vilna ghetto to tell an almost identical but more powerful tale.
The sincerity of the tragic climax and its, for some, tear-jerking, hopeful coda may attract audiences eager to honor Jewish history. But even those able to overlook its longueurs and weaknesses are being asked to watch a feel-bad show just as a recession starts to bite.