“NUMBER THE STARS” A STIRRING STORY OF COURAGE AND FAITH

 

BONNIE GOLDBERG
    

On Memorial Day, we pause to value our freedoms and thank the men and women who have guaranteed them over the decades. How appropriate is it, therefore, to look back to a time when Hitler and his Nazi soldiers ruled Germany and had plans for a master race and a plot to control the world.

 

The Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich will be shining a spotlight on a memorable moment in World War II with a new musical “Number the Stars,” with book, music and lyrics by Sean Hartley, based on the Newberry Medal Award-winning book by Lois Lowry, until Sunday, June 3.

 

This ambitious and well-staged production focuses on two ten-year-old girls in Denmark and how the Nazi invasion affects their daily lives. First it is a lack of sugar, cream, flour, coffee. No more cupcakes. Then it is an 8 p.m. curfew and a curtailment of personal freedoms, with the Jewish people being specifically targeted, their stores closed and members of their faith rounded up, sent to ghettoes and destined for annihilation.

 

Annemarie (Vera Farina) is best friends with Ellen (Abby Rain Heiser) and they walk to school together with Annemarie’s precocious younger sister Kirsti (Aysia Reed) until Nazi soldiers (Brandon Nichols and Rob Grgach) repeatedly stop and question them. As the months of 1943 pass, it becomes clear that the Denmark they once enjoyed is gone, possibly for a long time, if not forever.

 

When Ellen and her mother Sophy (Kristin Lattin) fear for their lives because of their Jewish faith, it is Annemarie’s Christian parents (Shawn Rucker and Frank Calamaro) who risk their own lives to hide Ellen. When soldiers knock at their door in the middle of the night, they claim Ellen is their daughter Lise (Anne Fowler) who was killed working with her friend Peter (Connor Harvey) in the Resistance movement.

 

Annemarie’s Uncle Henrik (Corrado Alicata) has a plan to spirit Ellen and her mother away to Sweden and safety. This plan allows Annemarie the opportunity to show her courage and bravery and underscores how neighbors join in a community to fight evil and stand up for justice.

 

Songs like “I’ll Tell You Just a Little,” “The Robin and the Rosebud,” “L’Shana Tova” and “Friends” express the heartfelt sentiments of a people fighting an enemy that has invaded their homeland.

 

Artistic director Brett A. Bernardini has shepherded this production like a proud papa showing off a newborn child, nurturing its development with love and care. For tickets ($30, students $15 one hour before curtain), call Spirit of Broadway Theater, 24 Chestnut Street, Norwich at 860-886-2378 or online at www.spiritofbroadway.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

 

Sign up today for the Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards, a black tie event to be held on Monday, June 4 at 6:30 p.m. at Waterbury’s Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street. Nineteen member schools, seventeen of which are self-funded acting programs, will receive awards in sixteen categories. Tickets for the gala begin at $50. Call the Palace Theater box office at 203-346-2000 for this outstanding salute to our youth.

 

Discover the hope and promise that can emerge from even the darkest corners when our freedoms are threatened and our faith is tested.


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CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE