Belting It Out

Jewish Music Festival offers the opposite of a dry lecture about showtunes

By Doug Rule
Published on May 2, 2013, 5:06am | Comments

''It's a wonderful way to think about the rich tradition of so many Jews who were key to writing beautiful music for Broadway,'' says Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the DC Jewish Community Center. She's talking about one event at this year's Washington Jewish Music Festival focused on the tunes and the tunesmiths of the Great White Way.

But's it not a dry, academic exercise, or even a standard song-and-dance show. In ''The Big Broadway Sing-Along,'' everyone's a performer -- aided and abetted by a cocktail reception beforehand.

''The glass of wine gets everybody loosened up for their kind of 'Sing out, Louise!' moment,'' Zawatsky says.

Halley Cohen helped organize the event as the director of the DCJCC's GLOE, also known as the Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach and Engagement. Cohen was inspired by reading Stephen Sondheim's two recent books of collected lyrics and anecdotes from his many decades of work. ''What if we could have him come,'' the Sondheim fanatic remembers pitching to festival director Lili Kalish Gersch. ''That ultimately turned into us sitting there in her office, singing showtunes, eventually pulling in other people from other offices.'' And an idea was born.

Local actor Joshua Morgan serves as musical director and accompanist for the singalong, which will be lead by actors Will Gartshore and Bayla Whitten, with lyrics projected on supertitles above the stage at the Goldman Theater.

''There will be a lot of songs, a little shtick,'' says Cohen, who notes that tunes from classic shows by the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb and Sondheim will be represented, as will those from newer shows, including Rent and Avenue Q. The show will at least subtly track the evolution of gay and Jewish identities in the songs of Broadway.

''If you think about how Broadway was built,'' Cohen says, ''people from all different backgrounds were trying to represent their stories, and maybe couldn't talk about being Jewish and the immigrant experience, so they were talking about other groups' experiences. That was also true for LGBT artists as well. It's interesting to see the way that that's shifted in modern musicals.''

The Big Broadway Sing-Along is Wednesday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m. The Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the DCJCC, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets are $20. Call 202-518-9400 or visit wjmf.org or dcjcc.org/gloe.