Around the Town

Former ourtowner Phoebe Raileanu, daughter of Laurie and Michael Raileanu, has been in the news in St. Louis. The Jewish Light’s Ellen Futerman shared the following story with TJP readers which appeared in an issue earlier this month. You can read more about Phoebe at

NJT finds a wonderful ‘Young Sophie’ for latest production

If anyone needs a little arm twisting to see the New Jewish Theatre’s next production, “Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” I’ve got two words for you: Phoebe Raileanu.
I really can’t vouch for Phoebe’s talents, although she did belt out a few bars of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and it sounded pretty darn good, but I do know after talking to her for a while, I am smitten.
Phoebe, who celebrated her 18th birthday on Dec. 8, plays one of three incarnations of Sophie Tucker. For those unfamiliar, “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” examines the life of this colorful vaudeville and burlesque star, whose career spanned 60 years. Phoebe plays “Young Sophie,” Johanna Elkana-Hale portrays Tucker in the middle of her life and Christy Simmons is “Mature Sophie.”
“We’re not allowed to say ‘old’ Sophie. We were told to use ‘mature,’” jokes Phoebe.
No one seems more surprised than Phoebe that she landed the part. Not that she doubts her ability — she is passionate and confident about performing and knows her part inside and out. It’s just that this Clayton High School senior had never been cast in a leading role before. In fact, she was so frustrated about this fact that she gave up on show choir and other high school theatrical efforts this year, figuring she would do better to concentrate on her other interests.
Then, quite unexpectedly, she learned of the NJT auditions.
“I was walking out of school on a Friday when I ran into a friend who said there were auditions going on in [Clayton High’s] Black Box Theater,” she recalled. “He told me they were looking for a young, curvy belter and thought I should try out.
“I said OK, even though I wasn’t prepared. So I went to the audition and was kind of nervous. The girl before me sang ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses,’ which was the only song I felt prepared to sing. I said, ‘I know the girl before me did this but I’m going to give it a different spin.’
“Then, right before Shabbat, they called, told me they thought I was great and offered me the role.”
Says Kathleen Sitzer, artistic director of NJT: “What we were looking for in casting Young Sophie was a young woman with a big voice who could match the other two Sophies both physically and vocally. Phoebe won it hands down.”
Typically, when something this major happens, the first thing Phoebe would do is run home and hug her parents. But that was impossible because they live in California, where Phoebe lived until she was 12. Her parents, Lorie and Michael, moved back to Los Angeles in the summer after Phoebe’s mother lost her job here. Phoebe’s father, who is a Jewish educator [in St. Louis, his most recent post was directing the Shaare Shalom Religious School of Shaare Zedek and Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel], has had to change jobs quite frequently, she says.
“I told my parents, ‘This is what is going to happen: You are going to move to California and I am going to stay here and finish my senior year at Clayton. You’re going to cry and I’m going to cry, but this is what needs to happen.’ They understood and agreed.”
Phoebe explains that in addition to “loving my school, my friends and everyone here,” she insisted on staying because she intends to speak at graduation. She says students vying for that honor are asked to write an essay, audition and then a panel of teachers and students decide by a vote.
“I’ve lived in 16 houses and attended seven or eight different schools,” says Phoebe, who also went to Solomon Schechter Day School here. “Clayton High is the one home I have been in longer than anyplace else in my life. It means so much to me.”
This year, Phoebe is living with Shaare Zedek Rabbi Mark Fasman and his wife Alice, who are great friends of the Raileanu (pronounced RAL-e-NEW) family.
“The Fasmans are so great to me, there is no way I will ever be able to thank them enough,” she says. “It was so natural for me to move in. When my family lived here, they were my parents’ closest friends.”
Phoebe, who is “modern Orthodox” and a member of Young Israel, hasn’t seen her parents since Rosh Hashanah. She wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving because she was in rehearsals for the play.
Finances are also an issue. Phoebe says that money is tight, just like it is for many families. She had hoped to go to college at George Washington University next year, but now thinks she will attend Ben-Gurion University in Israel, which she says is more affordable.
She plans to contribute to her college education and had been working as a waitress at Il Vicino in downtown Clayton before the restaurant had a fire and closed. She will get paid for her role as Young Sophie but not until the production is over, she says.
The good news is that her mother is coming to St. Louis to see Phoebe perform Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The bad news is that it’s too costly for her father to come as well.
“I know this may sound a little weird, but I am totally in love with my parents,” she says. “It’s been really hard to be apart from them because I love them so much.”
And while she is thrilled her mother is coming, she adds: “My dad is my best friend in the whole world. He has been my biggest supporter. The best birthday/Chanukah present would be my dad coming to see me in the show. I wish more than anything he could come, too.”
As a postscript, Futterman shared with the TJP at presstime, that a Jewish Light reader read about Phoebe’s desire to have her dad at the show and donated airmiles to fly Michael out to St. Louis. What a mitzvah!
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