During World War II, Raoul Wallenberg saved more lives than any individual, organization, or government. Yet many people don’t even know his name.
Now a brand new dramatic musical, “Wallenberg,” brings to life the amazing story of his selfless and daring efforts. A special concert performance of this Broadway-bound show will be presented at the JCC of Harrison, 130 Union Avenue, Harrison, New York, on Sunday, April 26th at 3:00 pm.
“Wallenberg” is written by Larchmont resident and 2006 Kleban Award winner Felicia Needleman and her longtime collaborator, Laurence Holzman. Ms. Needleman is a graduate of Mamaroneck High School (Class of 1984) who has returned to Larchmont with her own family.
The co-writers met in a Modern Drama class at Columbia University and hit it off immediately. They shared a love of theatre and decided to team up and try their hand at creating an original work of their own. They honed their craft as members of the Lehman Engel BMI workshop and have produced a number of well received works over the years, including: “That Time of the Year,” a holiday musical review; “Jerusalem Syndrome,” a madcap comedy; and now “Wallenberg.”
The idea for the musical came from an obscure quote Mr. Holzman came across: “Raoul Wallenberg was responsible for saving more people than any individual, group or government during WWII.” It struck Mr. Holzman that he had never heard of this man or what he had done to rescue Jews from the Holocaust in 1944. He and Ms. Needleman began extensive research. The more they learned, the more they felt that this was a story that must be told.
The co-writers created both the musical “book,” the story being told, and the lyrics for all of the songs in the show. Knowing where in the script a song should be and whether it’s a ballad, a big dance number, or some comedy relief is the true craft of what they do. The difference between a “bomb” and a “hit” rides on these choices and how well they engage the audience in the unfolding action.
The composer Benjamin Rosenbluth has been working on “Wallenberg” with Ms. Needleman and Mr. Holzman for over three years. His energetic and lush score accompanies the co-writers’ depiction of the triumphs, tragedies, and mortal dangers Raoul Wallenberg faced at every turn.
The collaboration works something like this: Ms. Needleman and Mr. Holzman provide the scene and lyrics for each song to Mr. Rosenbluth. He works on developing several musical “themes” and comes back to them with the melodies for specific songs. The creative team, which includes director Annette Jolles, spends months reviewing and editing the scenes and the songs, seeking out the right balance of creative elements that will both entertain and tell the story.
Raoul Wallenberg: A Swedish Citizen Saves Tens of Thousands of Lives
The ultimate goal of “Wallenberg” is to present an accurate and engaging portrayal of the situation, motivations and incredible accomplishments of this heroic, yet little known historical figure, and to reaffirm how one person can make a difference and change history.
Why would a Swedish citizen from a wealthy family leave the comfort and safety of home to voluntarily travel into the battleground of Hungary and put his life on the line for total strangers? No one can truly know, but when presented with a request to volunteer for what must have seemed an impossible mission, Raoul Wallenberg answered the call.
The tenacious Swede fabricated a persona of force and authority – the alter ego of the continental businessman he had been – and became a daring agitator who repeatedly took on the Gestapo and Arrow Cross forces. He falsified documents, bribed political officials, pulled refugees from freight cars – whatever it took to disrupt the Nazi death machine.
Through cleverness and a willingness to challenge authority, he established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Despite threats on his life from the notorious Nazi Adolph Eichmann, Mr. Wallenberg refused to abandon his mission, and ultimately saved over 100,000 lives in six short months.
After the Russians liberated Budapest in January 1945, Mr. Wallenberg went to meet with the Soviet authorities to try to negotiate relief programs for the community he had saved. He was never heard from again, and his disappearance remains an unsolved mystery more than 60 years later.
In 1981, the United States government recognized Raoul Wallenberg’s achievements, posthumously awarding him honorary citizenship. He joins Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa as one of only six people who have had this honor bestowed upon them.
Wallenberg – The Musical
“Wallenberg, ” directed by Annette Jolles and performed by a professional cast of 26, tells the story of a man who needs to be remembered and celebrated.
This Broadway-bound musical aims to inspire audiences with Raoul Wallenberg’s legacy: One person – each one of us – can make a difference.
Tickets are available online at www.brownpapertickets.com (enter ‘Wallenberg’ in the Search Events box) or by phone from the JCCH office (914.835.2850). A limited number of Premium tickets are available for $100. General Admission tickets are $36 in advance ($50 at the door). One show only: April 26th at 3:00 pm. The show is expected to be a sell-out. Please purchase your tickets as early as possible.
For additional information, go to www.wallenbergthemusical.com
Rich Levinson is married to Felicia Needleman; the family includes a cast of three: Simon, James and Annabel.