It’s the second musical this year to close prematurely at the New London. Prior to Imagine This, the 1,100-seater had been dark since Trevor Nunn’s adaptation of Gone With the Wind finished on 14 June after just 79 performances (See News, 31 May 2008).
Set in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, Imagine This centres on a theatre group determined to stage a play 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’re trying to escape.
Peter Polycarpou heads the cast as Daniel Warshowsky, the head of a family of actors in the musical, which had a try-out last summer at the Theatre Royal Plymouth. Leila Benn Harris plays Polycarpou’s daughter Rebecca, who falls in love with the half-Christian interloper Adam, played by Simon Gleeson.
Imagine This has music by Shuki Levy, lyrics by David Goldsmith and an original book by Glenn Berenbeim. The production is directed by Timothy Sheader, designed by Eugene Lee and choreographed by Liam Steel. It has costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting by Tim Mitchell, orchestrations by Chris Walker and musical supervision by Phil Bateman. Also featured in the cast are Michael Matus, Bernard Lloyd, Richard Cotton, Gary Milner, Steven Serlin, Sevan Stephan, Saran Ingram and Cameron Leigh.
Despite mixed reviews, the musical proved it has its audience supporters with four mentions in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Awards shortlists, announced on Friday (See News, 5 Dec 2008), including Best New Musical, Best Actress in a Musical for Leila Benn Harris and Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for Michael Matus.
Producer Beth Trachtenberg has placed blame for the show’s “forced” early closure squarely on the shoulders of critics, many of whom attacked the musical for exploiting and trivialising the Holocaust. In a statement released today, Trachtenberg said: “Night after night we have seen audiences stirred to the depths of their emotions by this show. Fundamentally I do not think the critics should be making a moral judgment over the subject matter and moreover that they are generally not prepared to embrace musicals.”
She continued: “I’ve witnessed the public’s response to the show that is directly opposed to a narrow-minded critical belief that musicals are limited in their emotional impact and ability to deal with meaningful subject matter in a powerful and sensitive manner. I am enormously proud of Imagine This and of the wonderful cast and crew.”
In addition to Trachtenberg, Imagine This is produced by Anita Mann, Leigh Mason, Jean Mason, Finefish Entertainment, Marlynn Scully and ICW Productions in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth. No further productions have yet been announced for the New London.
- by Terri Paddock