‘Holocaust musical’ closes after a month

By John Nathan, December 11, 2008
A scene from the ill-fated show at the New London Theatre, which closes to the public on December 20

A scene from the ill-fated show at the New London Theatre, which closes to the public on December 20

Imagine This, the controversial West End musical set in the Warsaw Ghetto, will close on December 20, just one month after its official opening at the New London Theatre.

Even before preview performances began on November 4, detractors were describing the £5 million show as a “Holocaust musical”.

The play opened on November 19, amid doubts that a new musical with such dark subject matter as the Nazi persecution of Jews in occupied Poland would attract West End audiences in search of escapism.

The story in the show, directed by Timothy Sheader, who is also artistic director of the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, focuses on a Jewish acting company in the Warsaw Ghetto who stage a morale-raising musical based on the Jews of Masada who resisted the Romans. The Masada show is eventually used to warn its ghetto audience against boarding German trains bound for the camps. The fact that the Los Angeles-based writing team — Israeli-born composer Shuki Levy, writer Glenn Berenbeim and lyricist David Goldsmith — are all Jewish did little to deflect accusations that the show trivialised the Holocaust.

Producer Beth Trachtenberg hit back at critics for “making a moral judgement over the subject matter”.

She attacked the coverage in the Evening Standard, singling out “disgusting comments like Norman Lebrecht’s, who reviewed a show that he has still never seen”. Mr Lebrecht wrote a feature in the Standard about the show before its opening.

Ms Trachtenberg said that Imagine This had received a lot of support from London’s Jewish community.

“What I found outrageous was the comment [by American Jewish arts writer Matt Wolf, in The Guardian] that the show would never last on Broadway because there were so many Jews in New York. The irony is that I have found the Jewish community [in London] has been extremely supportive.”

Last updated: 2:07pm, December 11 2008