Posted November 15, 2019
“A night to remember” may be a cliché, but sometimes the phrase is entirely, unequivocally required.
Last Tuesday’s thrilling one-night-only, two-performance extravaganza, “Our Future is Central: A Musical Celebration,” at the iconic Carnegie Hall was, indeed, a night to remember.
Celebrating 180 years of Central Synagogue, this vibrant, stirring tribute managed to cover 18 decades in 90 minutes, covering not just the highs and lows of the shul’s history, but the unfolding of Jewish immigrant acclimation in New York City. It wove narration, dramatization, song, archival photography, and audio clips into a joyful, at times tear-filled evening.
Executive Producer Carol Ostrow, a longtime, devoted Central congregant and former Board trustee who is also a graduate of the Yale Drama School and the Producing Director of Tribeca’s Flea Theater, corralled a talented group of creators to bring Rabbi Buchdhal and Cantor Mutlu’s vision to life.
Delving deeply into the archives of Central Synagogue, writer Jeremy Desmon, director Michelle Tattenbaum, musical director Dave Strickland, production designer Caite Hevner, and costume designer Claudia Brown spun a narrative that didn’t just educate, but uplifted: the script touched on the arrival of German Jews to America, the early founding of the first synagogues in Manhattan, the robust debate over defining Reform Judaism, the shattering years of the Holocaust, the hurdles of New York City near-bankruptcy in the 1970s, and of course, the shocking fire in 1998 and Central’s recovery.
Four professional actors delighted with their humor and pluck, while Central’s clergy, its Executive Director, current and past presidents, and of course Rabbi Emeritus Peter J. Rubinstein offered key interstitial narration to escort us through every milestone.
But it has to be said that the singing stole the show and moved people to cheer and weep — not just the show-stopping numbers from Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Senior Cantor Daniel Mutlu, Cantor Julia Cadrain (just back from maternity leave!) and Cantorial Intern Danielle Rodnizki, but from the Teen choir, LCLJ students, adult Congregational choir, and our Central singers who captured the harmony and heart of this rare community.
Perhaps the high point of this magical evening was when the audience took part — invited at the start to sing Ki Va Moed, which they clearly know so well from Friday night worship, later instructed to take sides in the “Freedom” vs. “Faith” musical face-off, and finally signaled to raise their candles high during “Or Zarua” (“Light is Sown”) after the Shoah chapter of the story.
Looking around at the sea of small lights, stretching to the back and the balconies of historic Carnegie Hall, one could not help but marvel at two unmistakable, unlikely miracles: Central Synagogue’s vitality after 180 years, and the endurance of the Jewish people in the world.
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