A Most Fun Fantastic Family Day
When Milena Barrett of beyourbestmom.com asked me if I would like to review Hanna and the Moonlit Dress, a performance billed as ‘a fantastical, interactive musical for children about the magic of a good deed,’ “of course!” is how I replied. The fact that this was a Jewish cultural performance was especially attractive to me, as we are a mixed religion family. I am Jewish, my husband Mike was born Catholic, and we are raising our two mixed-faith daughters without religion. Our family does participate in some customs and traditions of Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, and Passover, but we are leaving the religion question for them to answer for themselves when they reach adulthood. However to me, Judaism is more than just a religion. It is part of who I am and in turn, partially part of who they are. Therefore, I saw this particular performance as an excellent opportunity for my daughters to learn a little about their Jewish heritage, but outside of the walls of a religious institution.
Upon receiving our invitation to the show from Milena, Mike and I decided to take the whole family to New York City on that Saturday with the goal of spending most of the day in Manhattan. Though S10 was worried that since she was 2 years over the performance’s ‘suggested age range’ of 2-8 she would be bored, I assured her that most likely wouldn’t be the case, as well as the fact that little S2 would enjoy hanging out with her awesome big sister. Plus, I also promised S10 that we would make time for some NYC shopping afterwards, and that suggestion enthusiastically received the Tween Stamp of Road-Trip Approval!
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress had a start time of 10 am, which is a very toddler-friendly hour to begin an hour-long show. I appreciated that! The 10am-11am-ish show also left my family a nice block of time afterwards to eat lunch at a fun place as well as explore the East Village a bit, which we were able to do for a few hours until S2’s eyes began to glaze over and it was go-time for nap-time in the car-time, yo!
The Theater at the 14th Street Y
The Theater at the 14th Street Y is located at 344 E. 14th Street (@ 1st Avenue), which is right in the center of the East Village, a mere stroll from some of the best eateries and non-corporate shopping NYC has to offer. The ‘Y’ itself is actually part of the acronym YMHA (standing for Young Men’s Hebrew Association) and boy, was this place huge! I could only describe it as a two-floor community center of epic proportions, nothing like the small-town YMCAs I am used to back home in the ‘burbs. The 14th Street Y also seemed to have a lot to offer the East Village community in terms of activities, some of which were definitely out of the ‘mainstream’ regarding community center offerings. I mean, I saw THIS poster, and I typically hate working out, but I SO wanted to try this class. ‘Punk Rope’? I’m sold!
The recess of my dreams, indeed!
According to a card inserted in the playbill, the 14th Street Y ‘is a vibrant community center that strives to be a source of inspiration, connection, and learning for the 20,000 people we serve annually throughout the East Village and beyond.’20,000 people! Wow.
The theater was up on the second floor, and the ticket-takers were very pleasant and helpful. There was a lady selling concessions nearby as well, and she told us (without prompting) that we could “bring any of this into the theater.” I also took a few photos in the theater, yet I wasn’t reprimanded by staff which was pretty refreshing. The actors did suggest putting phones away pre-show, but that seemed to be more for reasons not connected to my camera app.
The theater had 5-6 rows of chairs up on the right side wall, which were mostly vacant and full of discarded coats and bags when we arrived. Why? Because in front of the seats, on gym mats set directly in front of where the performance took place, THAT was where all the action was! Kids and parents were all gathered on the mats creating crafts that were to be used as show ‘props’ later on. I sat back in one of the nearby seats and watched/photographed Mike, S2, and S10 engaging in the all the fun, creative pre-show activities.
Shortly after entering the theater, Mike, S2, and S10 found a spot on the mat. They were soon greeted by a kind lady (who Google tells me was Ronit Muszkatblit, the director of the show, of the arts and culture department of the 14th Street Y, and of LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture). Ms. Muszkatblit explained what was going on, craft-wise, to my family, regarding the making of coffee filter flowers. She started speaking to S10 in Hebrew, to which my oldest daughter put on a face that I suppose communicated ‘polite confusion.’ When it was discovered that S10 spoke only English, Ms. Muszkatblit had no issue reverting to that language with a smile and a laugh. Later on, S10 confided to me that the she was becoming interested in studying the Hebrew language. And I ain’t gonna lie, that notion did made my Jewish mother’s heart jump for joy a little bit, indeed.
Up until the show began, S10 and Mike helped S2 make a few coffee filter ‘flower’ props to keep her happily occupied. I thought S2 would be possessive over her creations and refuse to give her flowers to the actors when the time came, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised that I was wrong! Kids can be so unpredictable at times!
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress: The Story
The musical Hanna and the Moonlit Dress was adapted from the book Hanna’s Sabbath Dress a children’s book written by Izhak Schweiger-Dmi’el. Dmi’el’s story was adapted for the stage by director Ronit Muszkatblit and composer Yoav Gal. The Playbill gave a 1-page summary of the book’s origin, and how the author was led to the creation of the story of Hanna and her dress. Hanna’s story is described as “about love; about kindness and about the light that shines on even in dark moments.”
I’m feeling a bit of a Hanukkah text-to-world connection here, amirite?
The narrative is centered around young Hanna’le, who appears to be around 5-6 years old. The story takes place just before Shabbat, or the Jewish Sabbath. Shabbat takes place weekly from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. It is a day of rest, reverence, and good food and family. Hanna’le is very excited for Shabbat, and to intensify her joy, she receives a new, beautiful white dress that her mother had been working on all week just for her. Hanna’le puts on the dress and excitedly runs outside to show all of her friends. In her travels, Hanna’le ends up running into an old coal miner in the woods after dark. She does a good deed for the old man for which he is grateful, but in the process, her new dress ends up getting dirty, and Hanna’le worries of her mother’s reaction to the now-soiled dress. Hanna’le turns to the moon for help with her plight, and ends up learning about the magic of a good deed. It’s a truly beautiful story, with a very satisfying, kid-appropriate moral.
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress: The Performance
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress was presented by LABA (A Laboratory for Jewish Culture) which, according to their website, is ‘a program of the 14th Street Y that uses classic Jewish texts to inspire the creation of art, dialogue, and study.’ I love the idea, and truly wish there were similar programs around where I live.
The three actors in the show are all young NYC-based performers with impressive resumes listed in their Playbill bios. The standout star of the show was an actress named Case Watson (which is a totally awesome name-especially if its her real one) who plays young Hanna’le. Although a grown woman, Watson portrays a young child convincingly, without excessive emoting, and she avoids coming off like a whiny grown-up in the process. Her character was the highlight of the show, and I enjoyed Watson’s performance immensely.
Kate Mulberry plays both Mother and Edna the cow, and she is quite convincing as a Jewish mother even though the actress probably is neither Jewish nor a mother (Mulberry is not a Jewish name; she looks quite young to have her own kids, plus having a child of her own isn’t mentioned in her bio in the Playbill). One thing I noticed regarding Kate Mulberry’s performance as Mother was that as a Jewish matriarch, there was not an inch of the old “nagging Jewish mother” stereotype in Ms. Mulberry’s portrayal. And that alone deserves a brava from me.
The third actor was a young man named Matt Webster. He plays three roles: The Coalman, Zuzzi, and the Storyteller, and I have to say, I had no idea that he played the Coalman until I glanced at my Playbill just now and read that fact. To be able to play distinct characters to the degree that your audience fails to notice that it’s the same actor in a different role in the same play seems like fantastic acting ability to me. Well done, Mr. Webster!
The stage props and costumes piqued my curiosity and were pretty intriguing to my family as well. They were all made of this curiously strong white paper, that held up as scenery remarkably well. My husband who has a lot of general knowledge informed S10 and me that the stage props were probably made of something called Tyvek paper, which is a strong paper that is incredibly difficult to tear. And after seeing S2’s toddler paws yanking on the props after the show, if the material was this Tyvek paper, I’d have to say the set decorators made an excellent choice in props material.
I also liked that the props were all white. I figured monotone white stage props most likely helped many young audience members focus on the show. Some kids, particularly very young kids tend to get distracted or over stimulated by a million bright colors everywhere. The clean, basic design of the stage props probably aided many a hyper stimulated youngster in focusing on the performance rather than becoming distracted by the surroundings.
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress was mostly a three-person show, interspersed with frequent audience participation throughout the 50 minute runtime which I found quite appropriate and respectful of the needs of the young audience the show was created for. The kids danced, spoke, sang, handed the actors props, viewed the stage and their surroundings through a blacklight, and experienced an animated, speaking moon! S2 loves the moon, so she was mesmerized during this particular scene.
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress was an extremely enjoyable show. My whole family, including me, my spirited 2-year-old, my “uber-cool” 10 year old, and my non-Jewish husband all enjoyed the performance very much! As I usually do, I came to the performance as a “blank slate,” haven’t had recently read any of the literature explaining the story to me beforehand. The only piece of text I had read regarding the show was a short summary I received upon being invited to attend about a month ago which I had forgotten most of by the performance date. I wanted to draw my own conclusions regarding the storyline first, without any bias. My family and I have concluded that the story of Hanna and the Moonlit Dress had a satisfying ending, it taught an excellent lesson regarding the “magic of a good deed,” (Playbill, cover) and the interactive portion as well as the skilled portrayal of the actors made for quite an enjoyable experience!
When your spirited 2-year old is still sitting, focused AND quiet even after 30 minutes has passed, you know there is an entertaining, engrossing, well-done performance happening.
Also, S2 could tell you her favorite part, it would most likely be the blacklight scene!
Mesmerized by the light, and very full of questions.
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress was the first interactive musical my family has ever attended, and it hopefully won’t be the last! I’d say that this particular show set the bar pretty high for any future shows of its type that we attend. Overall, my family had a great time!
After the performance, we took the girls over to check out the stage props, which we were invited to do by the cast. Even though most families wanted to take pictures with the stage props, folks were in and out quick, and we didn’t have to wait long at all to get our own candids of the girls.
We then ran into Ms. Muszkatblit on our way out, and shared with her that S10 is now quite interested in the Hebrew language. She seemed happy to hear that, and took a few minutes to chat with us all. When we stepped out into the hall, we also got to thank the three main actors for their excellent performance. I would have loved to get a picture of S2 and Case Watson (Hanna’le) together, but S2 was too shy, burying her head in Mike’s shoulder in protest. So instead of a picture, we ended the experience with a warm ‘Thank You’ and ‘Well Done’ to the talented performers, who were gracious and humble in return.
Overall, I’d say my family and I had a pretty fantastic day, and the performance of Hanna and the Moonlit Dress at the Theater at the 14th Street Y was just an absolute delight from start to finish!
As soon as we arrived home and everyone was settled and content enough for me to open up my laptop, I went and purchased a hardcover copy of Hanna’s Sabbath Dress for S2. I think it will be a perfect Hanukkah gift!
Location, Dates, & Tickets for Hanna and the Moonlit Dress
From December 2-18, Hanna and the Moonlit Dress is now playing at the Theater at the 14th Street Y. The Theater at the 14th Street Y is located at 344 E. 14th Street (@ 1st Avenue), in Manhattan’s East Village.
Public Performance Schedule:
Friday, December 9 at 4pm
Saturday, December 10 at 10am/12pm
Sunday, December 11 at 10am/12pm
Friday, December 16 at 4 pm
Saturday, December 17 at 10am/12pm
Sunday, December 18 at 10am/12pm
Hanna and the Moonlit Dress has a running time of 50 minutes with no intermission and is recommended for children ages 2-8.
Tickets are $18 general admission or $50 for a family of four.
Thanks for reading! Until next time!
Disclosure: Press tickets were provided to this show. All thoughts belong to the reviewer and have not been influenced.
Jill Valentino is a freelance writer, author, and working mom of two sassy ladies aged 10 and 2. When not parenting, wife-ing, or educating the future of tomorrow, she likes to blog about kids, music, and life at http://doublesmom77.com. Jill has contributed to Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Country Living, House Beautiful, Elle Décor, and Woman’s Day Magazines. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/doublesmom77 , on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/doublesmom77, on Facebook at http://facebook.com/doublesmom77, or at Tumblr at http://doublesmom77.tumblr.com .