Journalists got a sneak preview today (25 September 2008) of the upcoming West End “Holocaust musical” Imagine This, with the cast performing extracts at their rehearsal venue, the Duthy Hall Studios in Southwark. Producer Beth Trachtenberg and director Timothy Sheader were also in attendance to introduce the performance and answer questions.

Premiered last summer at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, Imagine This revolves around a group of Polish actors in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 who stage plays to inspire hope and optimism within the Jewish community. However, with rumours of the Final Solution in the air, their play merges with the reality they are trying to escape and a dramatic love story unfolds.

At today’s press event, three numbers were performed - “Hail”, “Far From Here, Far From Now” and the title song – followed by a speech from ensemble member Roy Litvin, who gave a moving account of his grandmother’s survival of the Holocaust, and emphasised his hope that the show will “resonate and inspire people on so many levels”.

Producer Beth Trachtenberg spoke of her “immense pride” in the company and said she felt it was “amazing we’ve got to this stage”. “We’ve been given the unique, challenging gift of creating a wholly original musical … we’re engaged in a rare and fast disappearing endeavour” she added, before echoing Litvin’s sentiments that the piece was “vitally important” for tackling such a “deeply emotive” subject.

Speaking to Whatsonstage.com after the performance, director Timothy Sheader acknowledged the “difficult” economic climate, but said he hopes Imagine This can fill a gap in the market: “I love shows like Jersey Boys and Hairspray - they’re great, but we’re doing something very different. I hope the public has an appetite for a musical about human struggle. Struggle is, after all, the subject of most great dramas.” Sheader, who is also artistic director of the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, admitted the show is a “gamble”, but cheerfully added that “this is what makes it exciting”.

Imagine This has music by Shuki Levy, lyrics by David Goldsmith and a book by Glenn Berenbeim. It’s designed by Eugene Lee, who won both a Tony and a Whatsonstage.com Award for Wicked, with costumes by Ann Hould-Ward and choreography by DV8’s Liam Steel. The lighting is designed by Tim Mitchell, orchestrations by Chris Walker and musical supervision by Phil Bateman. The principal West End cast features Leila Ben Harris, Simon Gleeson and Peter Polycarpou, who reprises his role from the Plymouth run (See News, 26 Aug 2008).

The show opens on 19 November 2008 (previews from 4 November) at the New London theatre, a venue which has been dark since Trevor Nunn’s production of Gone With the Wind closed early on 14 June (See News, 31 May 2008).

- by Theo Bosanquet