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Portrait of a Stolen Spring

The original Belgian cast in Portrait of a Stolen Spring

by Don Cruise

A unique musical drama, conceived by David Verbeeck, tells the true story of his great-great-grandparents, the Ukrainian Jews Chaja Zimmerman and Moses Kalter, who left their homeland at the beginning of the 20th century, hoping to reach America via the port of Antwerp. The original Dutch-language version was premièred in March 2003 to unanimous critical acclaim, and played to packed houses in Belgium and Holland.

What began as a search for Verbeeck’s roots gradually grew into an obsession fueled by one unrelenting concern: how deep would he need to dig into the past before he would discover who his ancestors really were? Armed with only the dates of Chaja’s birth and death, he set himself the task of researching their story. Slowly but surely, he uncovered photos, documents and memorabilia - and the idea was born to give them a new life as characters of flesh and blood, telling us their story onstage.

In cooperation with librettist Griet De Wolf and composer Wim Verhoeven, Verbeeck created a moving and intimate work of musical theatre which takes us on the journey of Chaja and Moses from the small town of Lutsk, outside Odessa, all the way across Europe to Antwerp. Their plan was to board a boat of the Red Star Line, to join Chaja’s sister in New York. But they were too poor to obtain passage for their family and were forced to make a new life in Antwerp, where Moses later died and Chaja was to be arrested by the occupying German army. Ultimately, she was sent to a concentration camp barely 150 miles from the town in the Ukraine where her journey began. She was killed at Auschwitz in 1943.

Verbeeck’s musical portrait of his forbears is staged in a simple but evocative setting, dominated by Harry De Neve’s digital scenography. The play is illustrated with images of Chaja and Moses and with documents from the archive, which now serves as a witness to their lives. Verbeeck himself and the actress Ann De Winne play the two parts. At each performance they are accompanied live by the composer. Portrait of a Stolen Spring is timeless musical theatre which claims its audience through the honesty of its characters, the directness of its true story and the sheer beauty of its memorable songs.

At the Abrons Center, 466 Grand Street, Fri & Sat 10/27-28, 7:30 pm, Sun 10/29, 3 pm. 212.598.0400

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