HMLC, JCC to offer screening of London musical ‘Imagine This’

Leila Benn Harris and Richard Cotton

Jewish Federation news release

The Holocaust Museum and Learning Center of St. Louis in conjunction with the Jewish Community Center is presenting a special screening of the hit London musical about the Warsaw Ghetto, “Imagine This,” at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, August 22, at the Staenberg Family Complex Carl and Helene Mirowitz Performing Arts and Banquet Hall, #2 Millstone Campus Drive. Several St. Louisans invested one-third of the money for the $10 million production.

“Imagine This” which opened in London’s West End in 2008, is a compelling, inspiring original musical that blends the story of Jewish Resistance in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto with that of the brave Jewish zealots who held off an entire Roman legion on the fortress of Masada in Israel 2,000 years earlier. The story is told through a group of actors in the ghetto who struggle to keep the dream of freedom alive by performing the epic tale of “Masada.” Even as their play merges with the reality of the Holocaust, laughter and love find a way to transcend ghetto walls. While the theatre group is a fictional creation, it is based on many theatre companies that flourished from 1940-1942 in the ghetto.

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Beth Trachtenberg, the musical’s lead producer who spent the last four-and-a-half years working on this production, will introduce St. Louis audiences to the musical and conduct a question and answer session after the screening. She has spent her career as an independent television producer and entertainment industry executive in the United States and Europe. She currently heads, ICW Productions, the umbrella organization that produced “Imagine This.”

Trachtenberg, a nice Jewish girl from Philadelphia who was reared in a very Reform Jewish family, never dreamed she’d take on a project like “Imagine This.” “Honestly, I never had a strong personal connection to the Holocaust growing up. Then about 30 years ago, I did a T.V. special in Israel. It was my first trip there. I absolutely fell in love with the country. About four years later, I went back and studied at an Ulpan. I also started making friends in Israel who never knew their parents and grandparents because they had perished in the Holocaust. For the first time, I realized what the Holocaust meant and its effect on human beings. When ‘Imagine This’ came my way, I watched it and was quite taken with the music and the story.”

Overall, said Tractenberg, funding came from investors all around the country who were 50 percent Jewish and 50 percent non-Jewish. “All of them said they felt the musical had an important and universal story to tell that really transcends gender and ethnicity. Personally, the mixture of support was one of the most rewarding aspects of the entire project,” Tractenberg said.

There is nothing like popular culture to drive the story of the Holocaust and its messages home. That’s what piqued the interest of St. Louisans Jean and Leigh Mason, who are among the musical’s investors. Said Jean Mason, “We got involved because we’ve been friends with Beth for 30 years. Once we saw the musical, we realized this is a story that has to be told and kept alive. It’s unlike other musicals with its themes of hope and abhorrence. It clearly sends home the message that hope must prevail.”

Another St. Louis couple, Natalie and John Alberici, president of Alberici Group, also invested in the project. “We were taken in by the music which washes over the audience like an emotional wave and the story too is compelling. Here is this play within a play that really talks to what is essential for people to be human – passion and hope — even in the most horrific circumstances. These themes are universal,” said John Alberici. “The musical also shows how history repeats itself. The story is about something specific to World War II, yet 2,000 years before the idea of sacrifice as resistance happened at Masada. One of the things my wife really liked is that this musical is not a derivative of some other play. It’s original theater.”

Tickets to “Imagine This” are $18 general admission and $36 at the mitzvah level. Not recommended for children under 12 years of age. Registration is online at www.HMLC.org . Deadline is August 15.

For more information, contact Jean Cavender at 314-442-3715 or [email protected]