Museum hopes historic presentation will help it climb mountains
By Deb Silverthorn
Since it opened in 1984, in the lower level of the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum (DHHRM) has had to “climb ev’ry mountain.” Supporters will celebrate every bit of that effort at the Museum’s annual Spring Fundraiser event — the Dallas Theater Center’s presentation of “The Sound of Music.”
The event begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and the show’s performance is at 7:30 p.m. at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. After the program, sponsors are invited to a “So Long, Farewell” post-show dessert reception.
“The arts can be a bridge to help us understand our past, and the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is honored to partner with Dallas Theater Center,” said Mary Pat Higgins, the president and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. “By educating theatergoers to the historical backdrop of this beloved musical, we hope they are inspired to learn more about the horrors of the Holocaust and the role they can play to combat prejudice, hatred and indifference today.”
Set in Austria in 1938, the love story plays out against the backdrop of events in Anschluss, when Hitler’s German army crossed the border into Austria, unopposed by the Austrian military. The Germans were greeted with great enthusiasm and Austria was annexed. Widespread antisemitic actions and political violence followed, Jews were attacked and anyone opposing Nazi rule was subject to arrest, torture and death.
“In this moment, with what is happening on the other side of the world, ‘never forget’ must be how we act, not just what we say, and ‘The Sound of Music’ is an amazing reminder,” said Kimberly Ross, who is co-chairing the April 13 fundraiser with Yana Mintskovsky, collaborating for the Museum for the fifth time. “To be back together again, to share in this ‘friendraiser’ that so drives the Museum’s mission — it’s going to be an incredible night.”
Mintskovsky, who also serves on the Museum’s board, pays tribute to her grandfather Abram Shpigel, who survived the Holocaust.
“This is a show that is a favorite of so many and we couldn’t be happier, or prouder, to host what we know will be a very special and very meaningful experience,” Mintskovsky said. “Year after year the effort to support the Museum is more important and we are more driven. Through this presentation we believe we will touch many who, before seeing this program, may not realize the depth of it.”
Members of “The Sound of Music” cast and production team toured the Museum, had an interactive, holographic visit with Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, who was born in Vienna, and they were taken back in time. Touring the exhibitions in the early days of the rehearsal process refocused their attention on the gravity of what was happening in the political and social landscape of 1938 Austria.
“When people think of ‘The Sound of Music,’ I’m sure the initial thoughts are joyous and positive: children singing, a postulant twirling in the glorious Alps. As an actor approaching a traditional musical theater piece which is often staged to highlight this joy, I admit I easily could have fallen into these trappings,” said Tiffany Solano, who plays Maria Von Trapp in the Dallas Theater Center production. “We were welcomed to the Museum with enthusiasm and a breadth of knowledge for us to investigate. [It was] a truly immersive experience, [and] I was able to explore the tragedies of the Holocaust through the human experience and the faces.”
“The [stories of the] survivors, some who reside in Dallas, touched me deeply, and the ability to carry that in the story we’re telling is invaluable,” said Solano, who, as Maria, must decide with Captain Von Trapp to leave behind the only life they know and risk their safety in order to avoid becoming bystanders to atrocities occurring in the Nazi regime.
“The Museum shared their idea of being an ‘upstander’ when presented with the choice to stand by and watch or fight for what is right. In that moment, on stage, I find strength and courage in that Maria is an ‘upstander.’ I will continue to hold this experience with me as an artist, mother and human,” Solano said.
Kevin Moriarty, director of DTC’s production of “The Sound of Music,” realizes the entirety of the history is overwhelmingly powerful. Specific areas of their tour that moved the actors and crew greatly included the experience of the Anschluss, Hitler Youth — a group in which one of the characters in the play is revealed to be a member — and the failure of the Catholic Church to stand against the atrocities of the Holocaust; many of the characters in the Sound of Music are Catholic, though the events of the play don’t move beyond the Anschluss in March 1938.
“We were all inspired by the Museum’s call to be upstanders, a choice faced by several of the characters at the climax of the play,” said Moriarty, “and all of us have watched in horror and sorrow as a new war in Europe has broken out, reminding all of us how important it is to learn from the past to avoid future atrocities.”
Moriarty said that this production will feature the same dialogue and music as the original, but that the “cast and creative team have attempted to shed any preconceived notions of how the design should look or how the characters should be portrayed. Instead of reproducing an old movie on stage, we are approaching the material as if it were a brand-new play.” He said he and the cast and creative team hope that it “will inspire audiences to experience ‘The Sound of Music’ with fresh eyes and an open heart.”
While the April 13 production supports the Museum’s education departments and programming, the musical is running from March 26 through April 24. After a number of performances, members of the Museum’s educational department, including Casey Bush, Museum educator, and Dr. Charlotte Decoster, Ackerman Family director of education, will provide a talkback for the show’s audiences.
“This is an incredible opportunity to share the history we teach here at the Museum. ‘The Sound of Music’ and this production are so much more than a musical,” said Dr. Sara Abosch Jacobson, the DHHRM Barbara Rabin chief education officer, noting that a temporary display will be shared in the lobby of the theater. “From the headlines of the papers, then — and sadly with what is happening to make headlines right now — we have history in the making.”
To purchase tickets or to sponsor the April 13 event, which has limited seating, visit DHHRM.org/Spring.