JCC's 'Moses Man' turns the Holocaust experience into a musical

05:00 AM, Apr 02, 2013

Deborah Haber and Casey Filiaci's Moses Man opens at the JCC this weekend. (Provided by Rochester Children's Theatre)/

Written By Leah Stacy

JCC CenterStage is marking the Passover season with a world premiere workshop production of Moses Man: A Musical Journey of a Holocaust Survivor, with book and lyrics by Deborah Haber and music by Casey L. Filiaci.

Moses Man is the story of Haber’s father and mother, Austrian Jews who married when the first rumblings of World War II began. It chronicles their journey as fugitives through countries, prejudices and danger until the war ends and they gain safe passage to America.

The show is presented in conjunction with Rochester Children’s Theatre, where Haber is producing artistic director. Filiaci is a locally based, Emmy-nominated composer whose work has appeared nationally. It’s the duo’s second collaboration. In 2011, they co-produced Sweet House, a retelling of Hansel and Gretel inspired by Michelle Obama’s fight against child obesity, and toured it to nearly 40 schools in the Rochester area.

This workshop production of Moses Man features a slew of Rochesterians who are active in the local theater community, both onstage and behind the scenes: RCT’s associate artistic director, Danny Hoskins, plays Avi (the Moses Man) and Geva Theatre Center’s development manager, Mary Tiballi, plays his wife, Lia. The two have been involved in the project since June, when they recorded a three-song demo with Haber and Filiaci to pitch to prospective donors and partners.

Other familiar faces abound, including Fred Nuernberg (Opa), last seen in Blackfriars’ A Life in the Theatre. And JCC regulars will recognize Sammi Cohen (Anita) and Richard Scooter Rosenthal (Zvi) as characters from CenterStage’s holiday show, Handle with Care.

As a workshop production, each cast member has a script in hand for the duration of the show, no doubt impeding natural reactions and nuances that will come as the material matures.

A post-show discussion revealed the nine-member ensemble has only been rehearsing for a month — an extremely short period for a musical, considering that some of the music was still being revised during rehearsals.

The plot is thick with details, accentuated by projections of legal papers, visas and black-and-white photos of Haber’s family. A lengthy synopsis on the back of each program helps guide the audience for this workshop production, which clocks in at about two and a half hours with intermission.

Outstanding moments such as Scott Scaffidi (Freddy) singing “I Won’t Disappear” and Tiballi singing “And Mama Needs Cherries” confirm that producing this harrowing story as a musical was a solid decision. With some tightening and tweaking, Moses Man could be a must-see within a few years.

Hats off to an ensemble willing to believe in a brave new venture — and creative duos like Haber and Filiaci, who are putting Rochester on the theater map yet again.

Moses Man runs through April 7. For more information, call 461-2000 or visit jcccenterstage.com.