Free to be

J-Town Playhouse brings the classic and revolutionary children’s musical to Jerusalem.

A theater stage (photo credit: MOHAMMAD JANGDA/FLICKR)
A theater stage
Free to Be... You and Me was not just another children’s entertainment project. Created and produced in the 1970s by actress and author Marlo Thomas, in collaboration with the Ms. Foundation for Women, it is a story with an astonishingly feminist and progressive message.
The album and illustrated book were initially released in 1972, and featured songs and stories by celebrities of such as Alan Alda, Carol Channing, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross. An ABC special, also created by Thomas, that included poetry, songs and sketches, followed two years later. The underlying mission was to encourage gender equality, tolerance, and self love regardless of identity. These could well be a list of the major talking points of today.
Adapted for the stage by Douglas Love and Regina Safran, the much-loved musical has appeared on stages around the world and has now arrived in Israel. The J-Town Playhouse is presenting a long run of the production, which premiered on July 26th at the AACI theater in Jerusalem. It will run for 10 performances in total, throughout the month of August and then coming back for the final shows between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. The Jerusalem Post sat down with the director, Aliza Schoffman-Land, to discuss childhood nostalgia, mixing gender stereotypes, and strengthening children’s theater in Jerusalem.
How long have you been involved with J-Town Playhouse?
This is my first time directing, but I’ve been with them for five years. Started out as a stage manager and then started assistant directing, and then acting. I most recently acted in Avenue Q. Then I took a year off because I had my son.
Did you always know that you wanted to direct?
In the beginning not so much, but once I started assistant directing, I was thinking more about it This project was my vision, to do a kid’s show.
So you suggested “Free To Be...You and Me?”
We actually had a different show lined up first but couldn’t get the rights for it. Then one of the producers thought of Free To Be... You and Me, which was perfect because it’s such a great show.
Can you give a synopsis to woo readers to go see the show?
For adults, it’s a throwback. I grew up listening to this CD. It basically follows the four characters – Janet, William, Richard, and Vicky – from the time they’re babies through childhood. They’re playing together and telling stories. It teaches about loving each other, loving yourself, being yourself, growing up, and it mixes gender stereotypes like girls don’t have to want to get married and boys are allowed to play with dolls. 
How did rehearsals go?
It was a bit of a bumpy process. We moved back the opening night; which was originally in June. But I have an amazing cast who are all really talented and professional. I also have an amazing musical director, who has been with me from the beginning, from when we first thought of the show. We’re ready and it’s going to be a really good show. The show was done about 15 years ago by Center Stage Theater, so this is the Jerusalem revival.
Do you have a favorite musical number?
There are only seven songs in the show and three of them are my favorites. “When We Grow Up,” which was performed in the TV special by Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack, is a really cute number. In the musical it takes the characters from being babies to being eight or nine-years-old. Then there’s “It’s Alright to Cry,” which, as my musical director puts it, is the most beautiful piece of music in the show. Finally there’s “Free to Be You and Me,” which is a classic. That’s the one I really grew up on.
Do you expect that a lot of parents coming to the show will know it and feel that same nostalgia that you feel?
Parents and even grandparents, yes. I felt it when we held auditions also. A lot of people came to auditions, knowing that they weren’t going to necessarily get into the show, but they wanted to be involved because it’s so nostalgic for them.
What is it that you hope audiences will take away from the show?
I wanted to do a kids’ show because I want their to be kids’ shows for when my son is old enough to start going to theater, so that he’ll learn a love of theater from a young age. I hope that audiences come away happy, loving themselves, and having had fun.
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