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By Wheel and By Wing (2012)

a New Play
by Cameron Albert-Deitch, Sam Bardge, Haley Chung, Leslie Doctor, Dara Epstein, Justin Fisher, Maital Gotfried, Leah Quattrochi, and Parish Turnet, et al

COMPANY : Act 3 Productions [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Act 3 Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 4330

SHOWING : June 22, 2012 - July 01, 2012



Living on the Polish/Ukrainian border at the outbreak of the war, a Jewish family with seven children should not have survived. But the Parnes family did, thanks to a combination of luck, happenstance and � most importantly � the family�s own determination to stay together no matter what. Stars of Yiddish musical theatre before the war, the family escaped their town before German soldiers arrived, continuing east, always just a step ahead of the Nazis. It�s a story of survival against the odds. It�s a love story. And it�s a story that will stay with you, long after the show is finished.

In 2009, a combination of luck and coincidence led to a new idea: to tell this inspring story through an original work of musical theatre.

The resulting book and score was prepared by a group of exceptionally talented and dedicated young people, under the guiding hand of Corey Jan Albert. Writers and composers include: Cameron Albert-Deitch, Sam Bardge, Haley Chung, Leslie Doctor, Dara Epstein, Justin Fisher, Maital Gotfried, Leah Quattrochi, and Parish Turnet, with additionl music and lyrics by Greg Windle. Based on interviews conducted for the book, One Step Ahead, by Avraham Azrieli.

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In Thrall to "What Really Happened"
by Dedalus
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Three years ago, on a long flight from New York to Atlanta, Act 3 Productions Artistic Director Patti Mactas sat with a woman named Jeannie Wechsler. Throughout the flight, Ms. Wechsler shared the story of her family�s remarkable exodus from pre-Nazi Russia to the United States, a journey that would ultimately take fifteen years to complete.

Ms. Mactas took the story to heart, and decided to guide the creation of a musical theatre piece based on it. Spearheaded by Creative Director Corey-Jan Albert, a team of young writers and musicians have put together a remarkable entertainment, a musical journey through Nazi-threatened Russia, a story of a large family that is as much about the achievement of young artists as it is about this remarkable family.

Esther and Mickey Parnes head a poor Jewish family of seven children. It is June of 1941, and they lived in �the bustling town of Skalat on the Polish/Ukrainian border.� Worried about the advancing German army (and already victims of local anti-Semitic bullies), the family packs up a small cart and travels deeper into the Soviet Union, accompanied by eldest son Moishe�s good friend Azriel. Azriel is also attracted to eldest daughter Sally, but is thought �not good enough� for her by the parents.

Throughout the next four years, they endure many by-the-skin-of-their-teeth escapes, a few separations, and being snowbound by extreme winter and near starvation. Throughout it all, they maintain a strong sense of family, and a yearning to survive that is positively inspiring. By the end of the war, they have remained together, and have been fortified to face the new challenges of Deportation Camps and American Immigration Bureaucracies, challenges that will ultimately take over a decade to surmount.

Although I have some reservations over this version of the show (which I�ll get into later), I have to praise the remarkable achievement of this show�s creative team. Lead by Corey-Jan Albert, they include Cameron Albert-Deitch (Book and Lyrics), Haley Chung (Book and Lyrics), Dara Epstein (Book), Leah Quattrochi (Book), Parish Turner (Book), Sam Barge (Music), Leslie Doctor (Music and Lyrics), Justin Nash Fisher (Music), Greg Windle (Music and Lyrics), and Maital Gottfried (Lyrics). With such a large (and young) creative team as this, I would normally expect a �musical-by-committee� hodgepodge, a mix of styles and disconnects that miss all the unities Aristotle was so fond of. Instead, what I saw was an internally consistent piece with songs that were stylistically unified, and characters that remained the same with no jarring inconsistencies.

This last point, may, in fact, be one of the problems with this approach. The characters were so consistent throughout that there was no change or growth in them. They go through a number of extreme situations, yet come out the same as they were at the beginning. In one sense this is a good thing � each of the characters is a multi-dimensional creation, with more individual nuance than you may expect from a musical with such a large number of characters. What I found problematic is that they only took a �journey of incident,� not a �journey of growth.� They were, in effect, the same people at the end as they were at the beginning.

This may actually be an expectation when the writers are writing about real people with whom they�ve had contact. Most of the surviving Parnes family met with the production team to flesh out their stories in person, and many in the cast actually got to interact with the contemporary versions of the people they were playing. This may have had the effect of giving the artists a tendency to create the characters �as they are now,� rather than showing them as �they were then� and letting them grow and change.

Not to put too blunt a point on it, but characters who don�t grow can make threadbare drama. It�s often been said that �reality makes for poor theatre,� and, when dramatizing real events and real people, being overly devoted to showing �what really happened� may not be the best idea, simply because, in the process of putting words in their mouths, the writers are changing them, re-creating them in way that may not be in service to the overall story.

As an example, I have no doubt that the animosity between Azriel and the Parnes parents was very real, and very memorable (to the contemporary Azriel). NOT getting the parents� perspective, may, of necessity, make that whole plot point seem contrived, especially when it does a complete turnabout at the end. I�ve learned some things that give the animosity perspective and dramatic �Oomph,� but these things were not included in the play as it was presented here. I would have liked to see, perhaps, a moment where the Father tells us (or at least sings to us) all the reasons for his distrust of Azriel, not the simplistic �He�s not good enough for her� that we have now. Having Azriel grow and change throughout the show could also justify a change in perspective from the parents.

Now, all this being said, I have nothing but praise for the cast and production team here. Director Mactas has gathered a marvelous ensemble of adults and children to play the Parnes family (Elyssa Brette Mactas, Douglas Berlon, Connor Crank, Traci Weisberg, Brandon Kalusa, Caroline Grace Carter, Jeremy Kemalov, Ella Owen, and Sophia Kemalov, with Benjamin Harris as Azriel). Erin Hamilton is a lithe and expressive �Neshoma,� a �spirit� of the life force that unites the family and helps them survive � in a truly theatrical conception that I absolutely loved, she overlooks everything, adding choreographed moments to underscore emotional high (and low) points. A 10-person ensemble of Act 3 veterans fills out the cast with numerous other roles.

And, music director Lyn Taylor leads a seven-member orchestra that makes the many musical moments sing, and which never overpowers the singers. This show looked and sounded very good indeed.

This is a work in progress, and it follows an initial 2011 workshop reading of the show. There are some structural and dramatic problems that can (and, I presume, will) be addressed in future revisions. The bottom line is that this is a compelling story that should find an appreciative audience, no matter what shape it takes. More to the point, it�s a vivid reminder that Act 3 is a �hotbed� of creative talent, and their shows will only get better and better as they gain more experience.

If this may be used as an example, I look forward to seeing more original work from them.

-- Brad Rudy (



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