LETTER FROM WARSAW - REVIEWS
Letter from Warsaw" - The Musical!
"Letter from Warsaw" is an excellent and much-needed musical. I knew the idea from the very beginning when Gary Guthman decided to turn his ideas into a stage masterpiece. At first, I had some concerns. I was afraid that the author of the music and the libretto (together with Doman Nowakowski) would expose himself to ostracism by the circles that persistently try to divide the Jewish and Polish communities. After all, this is what false testimonies about Poland and Poles spread by the world media serve. Gary, who grew up in Poland through his marriage to the beautiful harpist Malgorzata Zalewska, found out that although there were difficult moments in historical Polish-Jewish relationships, these two nations lived in symbiosis for hundreds of years.
The main idea of the musical story is the clash between harmful stereotypes among New York Jews and the feelings of Poles living in Poland. In the middle is Sara, an old Jewish woman, and heiress of a tenement house that survived the war in Warsaw. Her daughter has a deep-seated hatred of Poland and Poles and does not want to hear about Poland - a cursed land, a hell for Jews. Her son - a lawyer calmly thinks that the chance of earning cannot be rejected and goes to Poland. Here he sees a different world than the one he knows from family accounts. He learns about Poles who saved Jews, about the cooperation of Poles and Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, about the Warsaw Uprising. The performance is an important lesson in Polish history, telling about the fact that Poles were the victims of the terrible war (regardless of whether they had Polish or Jewish blood). This all explains why I wrote at the beginning of the text that it was a necessary musical.
The actors playing in "Letter from Warsaw" had an extremely difficult task. First, they had to perform in the "Palladium" hall, which was poorly adapted to theatrical needs. Secondly, the performance is performed in two languages, Polish and English. Thirdly, not everyone had the experience of musical theater. Everyone, however, unexpectedly coped well with these inconveniences. Two young artists, Sasha Strunin (daughter of the director of the theater) and Małgorzata Kozłowska (young Sara) deserve recognition, who were excellent vocally and acting and showed extraordinary musical talent. A great surprise was the sensational finding in a completely new, musical world of Agnieszka Kurowska (Sarah), whom I have known for a long time since she sang the lead Mozart roles at the Warsaw Chamber Opera. The lawyer - Sarah's grandson was excellently played by Piotr Bajtlik and interesting characters were created by Piotr Cyrwus (who played the old, pre-war Jew Mojsze), Sarah's daughter Izabella Bukowska and Dariusz Kordek as the director of the Warsaw theater.
Gary Guthman created the perfect piece. Nothing unusual. He is a great musician and composer, and Americans feel the poetics of the musical, which is their national good, like no one else. The staging is, as Ryszard Peryt said, a "poor opera", but it is still a miracle that "Letter from Warsaw" was successfully staged on stage. After all, the premieres of American musicals cost millions of dollars.
I dream that this important work will end up in the lion's den, i.e. on Broadway in New York, and I am convinced that there it could do a lot of good for Polish-Jewish relations. I believe that this idea will be supported by institutions such as the Polish National Foundation
Meanwhile, however, I hope that "Letter from Warsaw" will appear permanently on one of the professional Warsaw stages.
Author -Tadeusz Deszkiewicz (Polish Radio RDC)
"This is a full-size musical, composed by an excellent American musician, who for a dozen or so years has lived in Poland, which leads to his understanding of Polish-Jewish issues and their nuances. As he wrote in the program if only he could, he would immediately remove bad rhetoric, propaganda, and misunderstanding, but the field of his influence can only be music - and this musical does it just perfectly, with understanding and cordiality to both parties - kindness!
The libretto was created by both Doman Nowakowski and Gary Guthman, as it was simultaneously written in two languages. Nowakowski is responsible for the song translations because they are performed on the stage depending on the better sound of texts in Polish or English – rightly so considering the choice of the director of the spectacle - Natalia Kozłowska. So, we have a substantive history of the combination of both languages in one play, as we have today, in our contemporary life ...
The musical, a two-and-a-half-hour spectacle, contains challenging sub-sections - very diverse. The songs move you, as their drama comes alive, even a lovely lullaby. And in this conglomerate, we find a few pearls that can become real hits. I’m referring in particular to "Two Candles in the Darkness" with a number of splendid duets throughout performed by the two major, young heroes - Alicja, the daughter of the director of the Polish theater located in a tenement house, owned by the American family and Abey - a grandson of the owner who arrives in Warsaw in kismet with Alice, and which Grandmother Sara had preplanned.
We present the soloists - A young couple who create unparalleled greatness known to all. A jazz vocalist - Sasha Strunin and handsome actor Piotr Bajtlik. At the top of their class is probably the final duo performing “How Could It Be? In this sweet development, they become tangible, and tasteful - Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta! Bajtlik gives his artistic impression in their duo in” Just Another City”, and I also really like Alicja in a spectacular, virtuoso Song ” Fancy This” and in a more diverse, solo, as well as spectacular - " Everybody's Talking”.
I also like very much the opening, title song "Letter from Warsaw" with Hanna-Izabella Bukowski along with Bajtlik’s Abey, and the beautifully singing grandmother Sara deserves a special mention, a former excellent soloist of the Warsaw Chamber Opera - Agnieszka Kurowska. I do not know if it was a director's idea or a proprietary idea to make the role in feeling, always just as if in slow motion. Every idea is a part of her arsenal, because the musical's oldest figure, a woman already aged strongly, with war horror memories, in a retrospective role ... very special. She performs with not only the highest of skills but also never misses in temperament!
Last but not least - perhaps the most interesting, vocal and acting - is young Sara in the personage of Małgorzata Kozłowska, a film and theatre actress, but also a vocalist. She has such a warm, captivating, and moving voice, so much culture, taste, and subtlety ... She delighted in two of her solo numbers: "My Beautiful Poland" and in a rich, great thesis in preparation for the finale: "Two Candles in the Darkness"...
The “orchestra” (two synthesizers, piano, bass, and drums) created by a group of only a few musicians under the discreet, but always reliable director and composer Gary Guthman, gave us a gift, that few others can - I will repeat: a full-size, musical spectacle that meets all the requirements of this species.
Kudos, therefore, to all those who contributed to the presentation of the work on the stage of the Palladium theater in the heart of Warsaw. I would like to emphasize that this work is the fruit of an outstanding artist in Gary Guthman, who experienced on behalf of all the fields of his musical interests, supported by the authorities of the largest masters, such as Henry Mancini and Don Costa or Aretha Franklin and Tony Bennett. His arrangements represent some of the best symphonic and jazz orchestras in Canada and USA. I'm sure it's just a good start to the life of this musical "Letter from Warsaw" and that all the best will be in the future. Musically - the musical meets the highest of requirements. Congratulations to all performers and creators!"
Author -Adam Rozlach (Polish Radio 2, TVP Kultura)
Letter from Warsaw / A necessary dialog
"The Musical is excellently written. Good, strong dialogues, fast-paced action, a phenomenal way of moving in time, and great music. After leaving the theater, I hummed song motifs for a long time. I hope that the creators of the musical will release an album with songs. What a performance! The Cast of the Musical is a bull's-eye. Usually, the director does not have to communicate with the creators of the art, because they are dead. In this case, they are" very much alive. "It was an additional challenge for director Natalia Kozłowska. But we worked together wonderfully- Gary said before the premiere. As a result, Agnieszka Kurowska, Izabella Bukowska-Chądzyńska, Dariusz Kordek, and Sławomir Mandes appeared on the stage. Piotr Cyrwus proved that he is not only an excellent actor but also can sing well. As an old Jewish character, Moishe danced, sang, intrigued, and entertained Two vocal duets which definitely deserved big applause. For Sasha Strunin it was a very successful acting debut. The young singer from the group The Jet Set has grown into a wonderful, full of charm and class vocalist. Together with the extremely talented Piotr Bajtlik, they shone on the stage. I'd love to see them in some Hollywood music movie. The second duo is Przemysław Franciszek Niedzielski, who captivated with timbre and interpretation - and a real pearl, Małgorzata Kozłowska, a young actress endowed with an unusual scale of voice and great sensitivity. When I listened to her, I got chills a few times, and that's what art is all about. "
Author - Anna Krajkowska (Daily Gazette)
Letter from Warsaw" - The Musical!
"The topic is important in this musical. The topic is still alive nowadays in Poland - and risky. At the premiere, there were times when the audience was caught in a deeper silence than what is usual and then the text came, after which the applause broke out.
The letter from Warsaw somewhat reflected the fate of the composer. Gary Guthman, a jazzman, grew up in Oregon in an orthodox Jewish community. He had no direct family connections with our region of the world. Living in America, he knew about the tragedy of the Holocaust. When he was going to Poland a dozen or so years ago, he was braced for hate and lack of understanding. But he discovered a country different from what he had expected, full of cordial and friendly people - a country with a thousand years of shared history, once called Paradiso Judeorum (Jewish Paradise). Today he lives in Poland, with his wife Gosia. He says he has never encountered anti-Semitism. In the words, in the program, he declared the message: "It is high time that both sides, Jewish and Catholic, understand each other and appreciate their Polish history. That these two nations would cease to resemble only what was bad between them, but would also realize what was good. " He worked on the musical for eight years together with screenwriter Doman Nowakowski - an American Jew with a Catholic Pole (that's how they both advertise).
They created a story about a young lawyer, Abey, who comes to Warsaw with a negative attitude towards Poland (as Guthman once did). His grandmother regained a tenement house in the city center, and the grandson wants to sell it immediately to developers, who want to demolish the area for a parking lot or a shopping center. But the tenement, which stood on the edge of the ghetto, now houses a theatre. The Theatre Director offers compensation, defending this building that hides the memory of the now-defunct Warsaw Ghetto and the drama of war. Of course, these are real references to Teatr Kamienica by Emilian Kamiński (where, moreover, the interior is decorated with a panorama of old Warsaw). Abey and the Director fall into a heated argument in the musical and its theatrical conflict - between the American pursuit of business and the Polish passion for suffering. The drums and loud playing of a five-member band fuel this dispute, Abey (Piotr Bajtlik) with the Director (Dariusz Kordek) in the rhythm of a violently sung dialogue are ready to fight, except that they are divided by a table pushed in different directions (maybe here a symbolic piece of furniture for negotiations ...).
In the libretto of Doman Nowakowski, spoken sequences did well in terms of language; maybe with time some monologues or dialogues will become shortcuts. On the other hand, the lyrics of songs translated from English caused a problem, because in Polish there is an acute deficiency of one-syllable male rhymes, and such need rhythmic songs. In addition, the too-common wording in them was not always adherent to music. Director Natalia Kozłowska has proven high-class versatility. So far there has been no better, in my opinion, director of baroque operas, she also reached for operas of the 20th century (Puccini, Różycki). Meanwhile, the form of a musical like this, i.e. without spectacular elements, requires simple measures. It is necessary to program explicit situations, develop credible characters with actors, trifle of their behavior and reactions to partners, and smooth transitions from speech to singing. The viewer is to believe what is happening on the stage, sometimes to take over, sometimes to be moved. All this in the musical Letter from Warsaw succeeded, which was favoured by the conventional, slightly stylized decoration before the war.s a modern warrior girl, who can be polite, but also uses youth’s language with profanity and is not afraid of life challenges. Such was the director's daughter, Alicja, played by Sasha Strunin - who presented the “musical” style in singing best of all the cast.
Agnieszka Kurowska, who plays the role of a gentle Grandma, a long-time (great) soloist of the Warsaw Chamber Opera, was also able to penetrate this style and her beautiful transient song with a sophisticated, descending halftone melody performed really poignantly. Her daughter Hanna contrasted with her - an American who was flashy in music and speech, well-rendered by Izabella Bukowska; it was only here in Warsaw that her mother discovered her identity as a Catholic, who was baptized for safety during the war. The climate of these songs is of course built by words, and the songs are sung alternately in English and Polish about the difficulty of separating good from evil, about "beautiful Poland", about a wall that cannot be crossed, and "empty waterfalls".
Direct references to Jewish culture are also significant. In the song Moishe sings, the chorus takes on the character of a majufes (a religious song sung by a cantor). The peculiar sound of Piotr Cyrwus's voice worked perfectly well here. On the Sabbath day in the ghetto, the stage darkened, Young Sarah covered her head, lit two candles, and began the prayer of Kiddish; her recording in Yiddish glowed in the one displayed above the stage, but after two verses it turned into a moving song. Małgorzata Kozłowska, still a student at the Warsaw Theatre Academy, created a very convincing sensitive, and brave girl. Her musical boyfriend Kazik (Przemysław Niedzielski) with a friend Marek (Sławomir Mandes) provided the ghetto residents with weapons; Marek, with insurgent enthusiasm, danced and sang with them.
In the past it was a dilemma: is it appropriate - can one - show a concentration camp in the theatre, as in the opera of Passenger by Mieczysław Wajnberg? Or, like here, dance and sing about the ghetto uprising? But today, perhaps, the only acceptable form of communication for generations that do not remember and do not know about the extermination? Not only in Poland - but also in other countries, who haven't experienced similar wounds? Gary Guthman wrote music and lyrics in English, so crossing borders should not be a problem. In paintings requiring an increase in the power of the message (sleep, ghetto, memories), behind the scenes, thin smoke was coming out and crawling inside. In the context of the content of the art, this smoke was much more than a theatrical trick. I remember from my childhood how his grey clouds were rising over Warsaw, which was sunny in April 1943. This ghetto was burning.
In the libretto of Doman Nowakowski, spoken sequences did well in terms of language; maybe with time some monologues or dialogues will become shortcuts. On the other hand, the lyrics of songs translated from English caused a problem, because in Polish there is an acute deficiency of one-syllable male rhymes, and such need rhythmic songs. In addition, the too-common wording in them was not always adherent to music. Director Natalia Kozłowska has proven high-class versatility. So far there has been no better, in my opinion, director of baroque operas, she also reached for operas of the 20th century (Puccini, Różycki). Meanwhile, the form of a musical like this, i.e. without spectacular elements, requires simple measures. It is necessary to program explicit situations, develop credible characters with actors, trifle of their behavior and reactions to partners, and smooth transitions from speech to singing. The viewer is to believe what is happening on the stage, sometimes to take over, sometimes to be moved. All this in the musical Letter from Warsaw succeeded, which was favored by the conventional, slightly stylized decoration before the war.
The Musical was recommended by the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Professor Szewach Weiss, and Paula Sawicka, a friend of Marek Edelman. It gained the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Institute of Music and Dance, and the US Embassy.
Andrzej Pągowski is the author of the eloquent poster with the symbols of the cross and the star of David contrasted in white and red colors, and the producer of the premiere was the Otokultura.org foundation together with the Warsaw Chamber Opera.
Author - Małgorzata Komorowska (Teatralny.pl)
Musical Letter from Warsaw - review
"An American Musical Letter from Warsaw was written by an American Jew and a Polish Catholic. Composer Gary Guthman (who is also a librettist) and playwright and screenwriter Doman Nowakowski.
The action takes place in the late 1990s in New York and Warsaw, and in flashbacks during World War II in the Warsaw Ghetto. Sara is played by the opera singer Agnieszka Kurowska; in the 90s the leading soprano of the Warsaw Chamber Opera. Eighty-year-old Sara, who lives in Brooklyn, receives a letter from Warsaw informing her of an unexpected inheritance. She finds out that she is the last living relative of the owner of the tenement house where she grew up. Currently, there is a theater in this house. Sara sends her grandson Abey to Warsaw to sell the house and finally close the chapter of her life she kept secret from America. Abey goes to Warsaw, convinced that there are only anti-Semites in Poland, which his mother (Sara's daughter) and father's family (descendants of German Jews who emigrated to the USA during the economic crisis in the 19th century) instilled.
At the Warsaw airport, Alice, the theater director's daughter is waiting to pick Abey up. She is intelligent and pretty. Abey, who is more or less her peer, is quite all together. Before his evening meeting with her father, Alice takes the New Yorker for a walk in Warsaw. At other simultaneous times, the viewer learns the experiences of the teenage Sara, who writes a diary in the ghetto. In addition to the captivating stories of both the war and the modern - the libretto has a second tier. It recalls facts that today's young generation, born years after the war, are unknown or have been distorted. He makes us realize that the mutual reluctance of Poles and Jews is rooted in old stereotypes. Points of view are surprising!
The libretto was created simultaneously in two languages. Guthman wrote in English, and Nowakowski in Polish. Director Natalia Kozłowska came up with the idea to combine both versions. Scenes in New York are played in English. In Warsaw - in Polish, and those with Abey also in English. I like this procedure, emphasizes authenticity. Gary Guthman drew on his own biography. This great jazz musician currently living in Poland, was born and raised in the USA. He is a descendant (fourth generation) of a Jewish family who emigrated from Germany to America in 1858. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, apart from the Holocaust, he knew nothing more about the history of Jews in Europe. When he first came to Poland 12 years ago, he was amazed to learn about the thousand-year coexistence of Poles and Jews. He also met a Polish woman whom he fell in love with and married. While living in Poland, he understood that the problem in the agreement of our nations is that "neither side is interested in a viewpoint other than their own."
Gary Guthman drew on his own biography. This great jazz musician currently living in Poland was born and raised in the USA. He is a descendant (fourth generation) of a Jewish family who emigrated from Germany to America in 1858. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, apart from the Holocaust, he knew nothing more about the history of Jews in Europe. When he first came to Poland 12 years ago, he was amazed to learn about the thousand-year coexistence of Poles and Jews. He also met a Polish woman whom he fell in love with and married. While living in Poland, he understood that the problem in the agreement of our nations is that "neither side is interested in a viewpoint other than their own." Artistically, there's not one aspect you can fault. The guarantee of high quality is the person of Gary Guthman - a student of Henri Mancini and Don Costa. His own works, as well as hundreds of orchestras for which he wrote, have been performed by the best American and Canadian orchestras. The current orchestra performed under his leadership for Letter to Warsaw. He is also the author of song lyrics. It is worth going to this musical. Often, emotions will overcome you."
Author - Alina Ert-Eberdt (Segragator)
Letter From Warsaw
"On the last Sunday of November this year, in the Artistic Theatre of the Warsaw Chamber Opera, on the new stage in the legendary building of the former IMKI (YMCA), the premiere of the musical, "Letter from Warsaw," took place, to which music was created by Gary Guthman, an American trumpeter, composer and bandleader who has lived in Poland for years. From the literary side, Doman Nowakowski, playwright, and screenwriter of numerous popular films, the libretto.
The canvas of the spectacle is the story of a tenement house, which in the turmoil of the war passed from Jewish to Polish hands, and as it happens in life, the issue of restitution suddenly appears. But if someone expects a trip to resentments here, playing with cheap stereotypes, you won’t find them here. This is fast-paced action about important things, with music that could have been written by someone who honed the workshop of Henry Mancini and Don Costa. It is an absolutely global level both in the sphere of the American convention, and traditional, beyond any doubt.
The cast includes Sasha Strunin, well known to jazz fans, along with Dariusz Kordek and Piotr Cyrwus (performing the sensational role of Moishe) and the master of Mozart phrases Agnieszka Kurowska. One of the biggest sensations is the voices of Piotr Bajtlik (Abey) and Małgorzata Kozłowska (young Sara). For me, it's a discovery of the year."
Author - Piotr Iwicki (JAZZ FORUM magazine)