MEREDITH — Fifty-nine local performers, ages seven to over seventy, and numerous behind-the-scenes volunteers are hard at work on The Winni Players Spring production of The Brundibar Project. The production will run from May 1-4 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Brundibar is an opera for children written by Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister in 1938 in Prague. It was only performed twice before Krasa and many of the Jews involved in the production were transported by the Nazis to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. The music was smuggled into the camp and the opera was performed 55 times between 1943 and 1945 by Jewish children in the camp. The chance to perform was a welcome break from the stark reality of their daily lives. Most of the children who performed were later sent to Auschwitz and murdered, yet their memory lives on through productions of Brundibar.
Despite the sad historical context, Brundibar is a fun and entertaining musical allegory about bullying appropriate for all ages. The plot revolves around two young children who want to buy milk for their sick mother, but the town Organ Grinder, Brundibar, won’t allow them to sing on his street and drowns them out with his organ. Three talking animals enlist the kids of the town to sing together loud enough to drown out Brundibar and “overthrow” the tyrant. Brundibar is often used as a way to introduce children to the subject of the Holocaust because it is not scary but offers meaningful context to the time period as well as lessons kids can apply to their everyday life.
The production also includes Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright Tony Kushner’s one act play But the Giraffe which Kushner wrote specifically to pair with Brundibar. But the Giraffe imagines how the score for Brundibar may have been smuggled into the camp when a little girl is faced with the decision to pack her beloved stuffed giraffe or her uncle’s musical score in her suitcase when faced with deportation.
Amongst the cast are 13 Lakes Region families represented by at least one parent and child, and five adult couples. This enormous undertaking is the Winni Players annual Holocaust Remembrance Day event, but this year instead of a staged reading of a play, the group is presenting a full scale musical production. Youth groups (religious, school, theatre, chorale, etc) are invited to participate in this unique event by learning a song from the show to sing with the cast on stage during a performance. Educational packets have been prepared for these groups to use in advance to learn about the Holocaust and the events surrounding Brundibar’s history.