Larchmont’s very own Felicia Needleman is part of the writing team behind the new musical “Wallenberg,” which is now playing at the White Plains Performing Arts Center.
Her partner, Laurence Holzman, is the other half of the writing team behind the show. The theater is launching a season of new musicals and plays to be presented in the City Center mall in downtown White Plains, and “Wallanberg” kicks off the season.
It’s an impressive debut, bringing a heavy topic to a mainstream audience through music. The cast consists of twenty-six actors, all who rotate between characters during World War II. Playing members of the Nazi party, Swedish diplomats and Jews living in the ghetto in Budapest, they tell the story of a great man who lived his life fighting to help people…and died paying for his kindness.
The story of Raoul Wallenberg is heroic. He was a Swedish businessman who came to Budapest during World War II to save Jews from the catastrophic consequences of the Holocaust. He issued protective passports and housed Jews in safe houses bought from the Hungarian government, saving thousands of lives. He also managed to convince authorities to cancel the bombing of the Budapest ghetto, saving an estimated 70,000 lives. After the war, he was taken into Soviet custody and was never seen or heard from again.
The beauty of this musical is the history it teaches. Not many people know the story of Wallenberg, and it’s an important one to be told. Who knew that Wallenberg went onto deportation trains and removed Jews who were moments from being sent to death camps, claiming they were Swedish citizens? There are many facts that play out during the play that both shock and remind us of this torturous period of history.
The writers took a story of courage and tell it through song and dialogue. The cast tells the story with conviction. Nearly three hours long, as there is much story to tell, the writing keeps the play moving.
At the end of the play, Wallenberg laments about the people he couldn’t save. But the audience is left acknowledging the people that he did save with the final song, “A Million Tomorrows”. It’s a beautiful way to end the play, leaving us with images of all the people who he did manage to save and the lives they would go onto lead. It’s an ending full of hope, which is a great message for this play to leave behind.
“Wallenberg” runs through Nov. 21 at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, 11 City Place in White Plains. Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be a special performance on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 10:30 a.m. For tickets, $39-$49, call Ticket Fusion at (877) 548-3237. More information at raoulwallenberg.net