“Brundibar” is not for reviewing. It is not for critiquing. It is not for nitpicking.
“Brundibar” is for hearing and listening and experiencing and thinking about and learning from.
What the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington and Stages Bloomington have produced together for us, the citizens of south-central Indiana, is a lesson in history, a lesson in social conscience, in the nature of good and evil, in the unending struggle for humanity and against inhumanity. Within the sprawling expanse of The Warehouse, an unusual but appropriate venue down on South Rogers Street, two of Bloomington’s theatrical institutions have put “Brundibar” on exhibit, a short, one-act opera written by a Czech composer, Hans Krasa.
Krasa, when sent to the concentration camp Terezin, took the score with him and, then, saw to it that children in the camp could either perform the opera or see it while, over time, there were 55 presentations of his charming yet also menacing handiwork. A production here and now is far different, of course. There is no composer today, in the safety of our community, to end up in the death camp at Auschwitz as did Hans Krasa. There are no performers, children or adults, in the safety of our community, to end up at Auschwitz as did all but two of the children who took the stage in Terezin. But the tale told and sung in “Brundibar” needs to be told and sung from time to time so that we, who lived through that period, will not forget and so that those who did not live in the 1940s and might not be thinking about such matters do learn and think. As the evil organ grinder, Brundibar, warns at opera’s end:
he may have been defeated in his efforts to
control a fairy tale village, but, if we don’t watch, he
might return, not only in fiction but in nonfiction.
The danger is always present. The plot of “Brundibar”
relates the effort of a brother and sister sent out
to purchase milk for the family. Unfortunately, they
have no money. To earn some, they decide to sing
for their supper in the town’s marketplace. That evil
organ grinder, Brundibar, stands in their way. He
chases them off. To the rescue come a sparrow,
a dog, a cat, and the children of the town. They bring
back the two hungry youngsters and chase Brundibar
(a Hitler figure) out of town, so that the singing can
begin for the needed coins and for joy to reign.
The production used an English translation by the
influential Jewish American playwright Tony Kushner,
who also wrote a 15-minute playlet titled “But the Giraffe,” which introduces us to a Czech family about to be sent to Terezin. Nazi orders limit take-along luggage. The father wants to take along a score of “Brundibar,” so that children in the camp can have entertainment. His daughter, however, wants to leave room for her toy giraffe. Innocence and despair are at work as the family faces a grim future. The battle over the giraffe proved a mood-setting prelude to the opera. I cannot say enough for this effort, gallantly directed by Pat Gleeson: actors young and older, solo singers (trained by vocal coach Susan Swaney) and those from four school choruses (IU Children’s Choir, along with those from Binford and Grandview elementaries, and from St. Charles School, each trained by its complementing director). Reuben Walker, the music director, used an instrumental ensemble of seven, from piano to accordion, for Krasa’s lively and tuneful score. The production values took the energies of a sizable team, all of whom contributed to the whole of this remarkable project.
The sincerity of what one saw, the sense of community, the desire to show something important, the hope that a significant lesson was being passed along: all these I deem as an act of love contributed by everyone involved, including those who guide and support Jewish Theatre of Bloomington and Stages Bloomington. Our town has been enriched by this noble endeavor. "Brundibar” is an act of nobility and love brought to our town. I am grateful for it.