At a recent dress rehearsal at Temple Beth Am for the Jewish Women’s Repertory Company’s (JWRC) November production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Margy Horowitz, the company’s founder, musical director and accompanist, played piano while the narrator belted out the famous opening line: “Some folks dream of the wonders they’ll do, before their time on this planet is through.”
Horowitz, to her frustration, couldn’t take her eyes off the sheet music, but she doesn’t have to watch the performers to know the narrator is describing her. The Chicago native dreamed of creating an outlet for observant Jewish women to realize their love of performing even though the Jewish law of kol isha prohibits women from singing solo in front of men.
“I founded [JWRC] in 2005 purely out of jealousy, because my best friend, who lives in Chicago, called one day and said she got a leading role in ‘Mary Poppins’ in a Jewish women’s theater group, so I thought, ‘Why can’t I do it here?’ ” Horowitz said in an interview before rehearsals.
Friends dismissed her as a “dreamer,” saying no one in Los Angeles would be interested, yet this production of the family-friendly biblical favorite has not only proven them wrong but also assures that if “some folks” have a dream, they can realize it.
Horowitz, a professional piano teacher, launched JWRC with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” for which she cast anyone who auditioned. This year, only 31 out of 52 hopefuls got parts, and the company has moved from performing at Beverly Hills High School to the state-of-the-art Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles. The band has expanded from a piano accompanist to include drums and a violin. JWRC subsists through ticket sales and ads, yet last year it donated $5,000 to Aleinu Family Resource Center, up $3,000 from 2005.
“Now it’s just a way for Jewish women to get together and perform and enjoy each other and be creative together,” Horowitz said, surrounded by a few visibly proud cast members dressed in their colorful costumes. But, she said, “There are so many more things that came out of it that I didn’t imagine. Friendships have been made. You have Bais Ya’akov parents friends with Beth Am parents,” she said, referring to the ultra-Orthodox girls’ school and the Conservative congregation, respectively. Horowitz is a member of the Modern Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation.
The ambitious “Joseph” musical is a symbolic choice, as it tells the tale of the fractured tribes of Israel coming together around one man’s dream. And indeed, the atmosphere in the rehearsal hall feels like a Jewish sisterhood: Women of all ages, callings and denominations — mothers, teachers, lawyers, therapists, professors, students and a doctor — happily synchronizing steps, singing and letting go as they move to the cohesive and professional choreography.
At first, Horowitz was surprised that she’d draw women who aren’t concerned with kol isha. When Caryn Malkus, an English and dance teacher, and a Beth Am member, was cast for a role in the 2007 production of “Guys and Dolls,” she didn’t know men weren’t allowed to attend performances. But she loved the experience so much that she came on as choreographer in 2008 and is this year’s co-director.
“It’s very empowering for women that we’re able to play all the parts and that we can put it on on our own with some technical help from men, but with the nuts and bolts done by women,” Malkus said.
And while cast members commit anywhere from six to eight hours a week throughout the four-month rehearsal period, often juggling parenthood and/or a full-time job, Malkus believes participation enhances her family life.
“There’s nothing better than having kids come watch you,” said Malkus, a mother of twin boys. “First of all, you’re out so much in the evening it’s hard to explain for them why it’s important you’re gone, but once they see the show and connect what you’ve been talking about with reality, it’s amazing for them. We’re becoming role models for our kids. You can be a mom, a doctor, a cantor, and do something creative for yourself.”
Horowitz says quality time with her family has only intensified. “In the musical, there is a line when the brothers say to Joseph, ‘Your dreams of course will not come true,’ and my husband says, ‘Your dreams of course will all come true.’ It’s a culmination of everything that I could have wanted for this group, and more.”