Last Sunday, I had the privilege of attending the premiere performance of a new musical co-written by Avital Macales and Sharon Katz: Hidden: The Secret Jews of Spain.
Avital is an old friend of mine, and when she and Sharon first decided to write a musical about Spanish crypto-Jews, she actually asked about the possibility of adapting By Light of Hidden Candles. I regretfully told her that I thought it wouldn’t be a good fit for them, because the romance aspect wouldn’t be suitable for a play performed by and for religious women.
So I had to step aside and watch with awe and no small amount of jealousy as they dug into their research–jealousy, because it involved traveling to Andalusia, and I never got to visit any of the Spanish locations I wrote about in By Light of Hidden Candles! In the end, they chose to adapt the book The Family Aguilar by Rabbi Marcus Lehmann–and it must be said, to their credit, that it is a complex story, with flashbacks and multiple settings requiring numerous set changes. They tackled it bravely and handled it very well. I did feel that the first act ran a bit long, but I was certainly never bored. The characters were complex and colorful, and portrayed with nuance and a clear sense of their motives and conflicts. The musical numbers were moving and beautiful, helped draw me in to the inner life of the characters, and enhanced the appeal of the story. The range of moods, from very dark and frightening to lighthearted and funny, were well-balanced and helped keep the play from being too heavy. (By Light of Hidden Candles has been praised for this too, so high-five, Avital!)
I felt the choreography tastefully augmented the visual and emotional components of the scenes that included dancing. The costumes and sets were very impressive for a low-budget community theater production–and the combination of these elements made for some truly visually stunning scenes, such as the auto-da-fé and the bullfight.
The acting in productions like these is not always up to my [extremely snobby] standards, but I found the performances of most of the actors playing the main roles fun and convincing (especially, of course, Avital, who starred as Don Diego Aguilar). I am not an easy critic to win over, and I found myself both laughing and moved to tears during the play.
There are just a few performances left and they’re selling out, hurry up and click here to purchase tickets!
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