Independence-minded

Rabbi, producer, composer and performer, Yisrael Lutnick's latest endeavor is the Israeli staging of '1776.'

By HELEN KAYE
January 28, 2009 12:11
2 minute read.
Independence-minded

Yisrael Lutnick 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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When he was around eight, Yisrael Lutnick's parents took him to his first live show. It was the Stone/Edwards Tony Award-winning musical 1776 at the Mac-Haydn summer stock theater in upstate New York. On February 11, Lutnick's company, Israel Musicals, will present the local debut of 1776 with costumes loaned from Mac-Haydn, starring Lutnick as John Adams, the man who became the second president of the United States. 1776 is about the birth of the US, the fraught, exciting and often contentious days leading to the Declaration of Independence on July 4. Lutnick chose it "because 1776 could just as well be about the courage and leadership that led to Israel's independence [in 1948], and the need for such leadership and national pride today. "This is a year of transition. We have [Barack] Obama in Washington and elections here. The question of leadership is much on everybody's mind. The character of Adams, his unashamed idealism, patriotism and love of liberty, is what lies at the heart of our own struggle for independence." Then he grins infectiously and adds, "Besides, it's a great show and I love doing a great show with a message." Rabbi, producer, composer and performer, Lutnick wears his various hats both individually and together. He grew up in a traditional home - "we had three sets of dishes" - on Long Island, studied piano and attended a Conservative day school from fourth grade, where "some great teachers inspired in me a love of Jewish learning." As an undergraduate, he studied both piano and voice. Voice won, and during his studies for the rabbinate at Yeshiva University, tenor Lutnick not only supported himself as a cantor at a Washington Heights synagogue, he started writing liturgical songs as well. He'd spent a year on a kibbutz between high school and college, and in 1992 he made aliya, working as a youth counselor at the Mevaseret Zion congregation where he would become the rabbi in 1995. A year after he arrived, he collated his songs onto a cassette, following it with the CD Gesharim (Bridges) in 1997. Then came September 11. A beloved second cousin died in that inferno, and "I decided to fight back, not with violence, but with the gifts I'd been given. Happiness is a potent weapon too." A couple of weeks later, "I saw a notice in the paper of auditions for Any Dream Will Do, an Andrew Lloyd Webber concert. I got in and loved every minute." After that, he got involved in every show he could, deciding along the way that if he was going to do stage, he'd better get the professional underpinnings. From 2002-2005, he spent about half of every year in New York studying voice, comedy, acting and other stage disciplines. During those years, he created a one-man cabaret act that he did both here and in NY, and he started writing the book, lyrics and music of If I Could Rewrite the World. To put on the show, the story of a boy called Aaron who tries to save his parents' marriage by envisaging how the biblical Aaron might have acted, Lutnick founded Israel Musicals in 2007. The show failed commercially, so to survive, Israel Musicals went Broadway with crowd-pleasers like The Sound of Music and Man of La Mancha, as well as concerts of Broadway hits. And on January 25, bachelor Yisrael Lutnick happily donned his newest hat: He got married. Mazal tov, and break a leg.

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