On or off or very off-Broadway

On or off or very off-Broadway

Here is something you may not know about me — or care about for that matter — but here it is anyway. When I was a senior at Stern College for Women and Others, I was in the drama society’s performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. After several auditions (one), I was chosen to be the lead male role (no one else wanted it). Yes, at an all-women’s college, gender is fluid. I got to wear a mustache (that I did not grow myself, fortunately) and a very cool three-piece pants ensemble.

The boy I was dating at the time was mildly freaked out by the seamless way I transformed into a man, but I have always said I look like my dad, so there you go.

I can honestly say that it was the most incredible experience. The rehearsals, the camaraderie, helping make scenery, the fact that I was able to memorize all those lines — something I do not think I would be able to do now and still don’t know how I did then. And all these years later, I cannot remember a single line.

And then there was the extreme  thrill of four live performances. The thrill — you would think that I was performing on Broadway. Though my dream was always to be the first Orthodox Jewish, overweight Annie — I know every song by heart and my family has been subjected to my singing these songs, poor guys.

Each show was sold out. Impressive, right? The Stern College theater didn’t hold that many seats, so it wasn’t that impressive, but it was still totally awesome. My other stage experiences also include playing the piano at a middle school play when I was in the Yavneh Academy. I still remember starting the show with the wrong song, but I quickly recovered and was nominated for several Tony awards.

So why am I sharing this with you? Well, my friend Brachafromtheborder (one word) has a friend who runs a theater company called Rachel’s Place. I am simplifying the story, but the point is, Brachafromtheborder invited me to this year’s show. In my head, I thought I was going to some auditorium in Newark and I was going to watch some lovely Jewish women put on a play.

No. That is not what happened.

The show was a three-night sold out performance in Newark Symphony Hall, where there are approximately 11,000 seats. When I walked into the venue, I was totally astounded. When I sat down in my seat and looked around, I was even more amazed. And when the woman next to me sat down with three large bags of food, I was a little concerned. “Why did you bring so much food with you?” I innocently asked. “Well,” the friendly woman shared, “my sister was in the show last year, and she is in it again this year, and we remembered how long it was, about 4 to 5 hours, so this year we came prepared.”

A 4- or 5- hour show? I quickly texted my friend, apologizing in advance that if the show was really that long, I would have to leave at intermission, and she totally understood. What I wasn’t expecting was that when the show finally started, it would be mesmerizing. The actresses were amazing, the scenery was incredible, the music was enchanting — it was like a Broadway show, but for very religious women — both the actresses and the audience.

I have never seen so many different types of puffy coats and ponytails in one place, and I am not even exaggerating.

What I think I learned from the program that was given out (and, as I have said before, I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, so I may be getting all of this wrong), Rachel’s Place is a facility in New York that provides for girls who for a variety of reasons cannot live at home. They are are provided with everything they need until they can transition to living on their own.

The production is a fundraiser. The amount of time and effort that goes into this is beyond. And I am sharing this with you because it is good to know that 1) There is a place like Rachel’s Place and 2) There is an outlet for very religious girls who want to sing and act in front of an audience.

We don’t have to make this into a discussion on why religious girls won’t sing in front of men. We are celebrating the fact that there is a place where religious girls can sing and perform in front of their peers. So maybe there is hope for me to be in Annie yet.

But most likely not.

Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck is happy to sing Broadway show tunes for anyone who will listen…

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