‘Hadassah’ and ‘Hamilton’ collide in community Purim shpiel

‘Hadassah’ and ‘Hamilton’ collide in community Purim shpiel

Alexander Hamilton’s reach continues. Not only is the Founding Father the subject of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2015 Broadway musical, but the show that bears his name has inspired the 2017 Pittsburgh community Purim Shpiel (or Purim play). Based on “Hamilton’s” Broadway success, “Hadassah: A Persian Musical,” which loosely follows the biblical epic of Esther, is written by Elinor S. Nathanson and directed by Sara Stock Mayo. “Hadassah” is produced by ShpielBurgh Productions, an LLC formed by Nathanson and Mayo.

Citing the protagonists of each tale, both stories have an “incredible overlap,” said Nathanson. “There’s this wonderful intersection where you get Esther standing up for the freedom of our people and Alexander Hamilton standing up for the freedom of the American people.”

And with a tagline reading, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells HER Story?” the musical has a particular bend, explained its director. “Without getting too political the show has a little bit of a feminist message [in] that we are all in this together and that the Jews have prevailed time and time again,” said Mayo.  

“This is the perfect Purim shpiel for our time right now. It is funny and meaningful and uplifting,” added Nathanson. “I think my favorite part of the project is this idea that you take this fantastically beloved musical, ‘Hamilton,’ and you connect it directly to our own personal story as Jews and our personal history.”

Slated for complete public performances at the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh and Community Day School, as well as an excerpted staging at Congregation Beth Shalom, “Hadassah” should be a compelling draw, said its writer.  

“You get to see the characters of the Megillah, including a motley crew of eunuchs, singing a bunch of hip-hop tunes from ‘Hamilton,’” said Nathanson.

Plus, ticket sales from each of the JCC performances will support local food pantries, she noted.

By donating those proceeds and feeding the area’s hungry, we are “furthering the mitzvah of Purim,” which commands us to “give tzedakah and spread joy,” said Mayo.

“It’s a really joyful and meaningful way for our community to come together to celebrate Purim and celebrate our freedom as Jews today,” echoed Nathanson.

Prior to “Hadassah” and establishing ShpielBurgh, Nathanson and Mayo, both of Pittsburgh, previously partnered on Purim plays at Temple Sinai as well as Chani Altein’s “The Sound of Jewish Music,” an evening for Pittsburgh women to celebrate Jewish art and music.

Each artist has also shined in her own right. Mayo was the longtime cantorial soloist at Temple Sinai, where she headed several Purim plays, and Nathanson co-founded, wrote and performed for Absolute Pitts, a regional sketch comedy troupe.

But for this project, the focus is much larger than either of the two.

Sixty people are involved, explained Mayo. The group ranges in age from 8 to 76. And “to date, more than 15 clergy members and spiritual leaders from 11 synagogues and Jewish organizations in the area have committed to participating,” said Nathanson.

A deliberate determination was made to welcome a wide swath of Jewish participants.

When it comes to Jewish unity, “we have things that are more alike than different,” said Mayo, adding that the commitment to that sentiment is reflected in the performance’s schedule.

The opening night is Thursday, March 9 at 7 p.m., and its second showing will be held on Sunday, March 12 at 3:15 p.m. Both productions will occur at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. With Purim beginning Saturday evening, March 11, the dates and times were purposefully planned to allow “people the option to go Saturday night to their home communities” for Purim celebrations, said Mayo.

The Sunday performance also enables people to attend the JCC’s Snyder Family Purim Carnival, which will take place between 1 and 3 p.m.

“We are hoping that people will come after the carnival and make it one big gathering place,” said Mayo.

“Hadassah,” with its compelling storyline and popular music, has vast appeal, she added. “It’s intergenerational; it’s interdenominational.”

And by the sliver of a chance that you have not yet heard the music of “Hamilton,” you won’t be at a loss, said Nathanson. Not only do the new songs “stand on their own, you get the added bonus of being introduced to some sensational new music by Lin-Manuel Miranda.”

>>“Hadassah: A Persian Musical” will take place on Thursday, March 9 at 7 p.m. and on Sunday, March 12 at 3:15 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, Katz Theatre, 5738 Darlington Road, Pittsburgh. Tickets are $12 for adults, $7 for children and are available at Hadassahmusical.eventbrite.com

Adam Reinherz can be reached at adamr@thejewishchronicle.net.

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