CCAE Theatricals will premiere a musical about 5 Jewish teenage chroniclers who perished in the Holocaust

In 2008, Jordan Beck read a book of excerpts from the diaries of five Jewish teenagers who died during the Holocaust. One of the columnists, Anne Frank, is a name everyone knows, but Beck was surprised he had never heard of the other four.

Now, 14 years later, Beck is set to debut “Witnesses,” a world premiere musical that gives voice to five lesser-known Jewish teenage columnists and victims of the Holocaust. Over the years, he recruited five different songwriting teams to tell each teenager’s individual story in song, as well as Tony Award winner Robert L. Freedman to write the musical’s book of 90 minutes. It opens July 15 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

“Witnesses” is the first original musical produced by 2-year-old CCAE Theatricals, with Beck as executive producer and J. Scott Lapp as artistic director. Beck designed the show and co-wrote some of its songs, and Lapp is the show’s director.

Reading the 2008 book, Beck said he felt a personal connection to David Rabinowicz, who was 12 when he started his war diary in Poland in May 1942. He was sent to a Nazi labor camp two years later. Beck said he was struck by how David and the other teenage columnists encountered many of the same issues as teenagers today, but they also wrote about having to wear Jewish stars on their clothes, losing the right to take public transport and facing their very uncertain. coming.

“Kids today are so caught up in the little things and they feel like life is so hard. On this show, kids deal with the same stresses in life, like crushes, not having a good grades and arguing with their siblings and parents. But on top of that, they’re marginalized. What I found so inspiring was that until the moment they stopped writing, they still held out hope,” Beck said.

A songwriter himself, Beck initially thought “Witnesses” would be a 15-song cycle, with three songs for each teenager. In 2011, he spoke to songwriter Adam Gwon about the concept, and Gwon wrote the show’s title track “We Will All Be Witnesses”. Over the next few years, Beck acquired the music rights to the newspapers. Next, he selected songwriter friends whose literary and thematic tastes he thought were best suited to write each teenager’s songs.

Beck wrote the lyrics and composer Gerald Sternbach the music for the songs based on Rabinowicz’s diary. Gwon wrote the music and lyrics for Moshe Flinker, a Dutch Jew who was 18 when he died in the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Matt Gould, whose musical “Lempicka” is currently playing at La Jolla Playhouse, wrote the music and lyrics for Yitskhok Rudashevski, who was 15 when he was shot in a Jewish ghetto in his native Lithuania in 1943 Composer Carmel Dean and lyricist Mindi Dickstein collaborated on the songs of Romanian-born Eva Heyman, who died in Auschwitz aged 13 in 1944. And Anna K. Jacobs wrote the songs for Renia Spiegel of Poland, who was 18 when she was executed by Nazi police who found her secret hiding place.

In 2021, Beck contacted Freedman – who won the 2014 Tony Award for the book of his Broadway musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” – to ask if he would be interested in working on the project. Freedman agreed and created dialogue, monologues, and ensemble moments from unused lines from teenage diaries.

“What he did brilliantly was find all these little nuggets and gems from each of the journals, a sentence here and there and some woven dialogue,” Beck said. “I would compare it to (the musical) ‘Assassins’ in the way it takes the characters out of their time and place and makes them interact. They had shared experiences but did not know each other.

The show finally came together at a two-week workshop last fall in Escondido. To ensure authenticity, the creative team worked closely with Jewish consultant and historian Raymond Zachary as well as Natalie Iscovich, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Lapp said the workshop was a profound experience for everyone.

“You always hope they’re moved and respond in the way you hoped they would… and when we finished one of the ‘Witnesses’ presentations, we had this overwhelming support of emotion, of excitement and passion for the project which was incredibly rewarding,” said Lapon.

Lapp said the “witnesses” may relate to events that happened a long time ago, but now is the time to learn from them.

“We have real issues that have seeped into our society,” Lapp said. “We all know that and we can’t pretend we don’t know that. It’s called hate. This is called bullying. This is called intolerance. It’s called racism. It’s called anti-Semitism. Throughout the show, the public will ask themselves a question: what will you do? These are the lessons we should think away from the theater. We are all witnesses.”

‘Witnesses’

When: Opens July 15 and runs through July 30. 7:30 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday. 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays

Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido

Tickets: 35$-75$

Call: (800) 988-4253

On line: artcenter.org