“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
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
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.