April 17, 2008
Set a place for Shatner at the seder
(Page 2 - Previous Page)At a seder in 2003, Itkin said he was stuck by the dramatic possibilities of the Passover story. He developed the composition while on sabbatical in Florence, Italy, the following summer and fall.
When Itkin secured a 2005 date for the "Exodus Oratorio" he still needed a narrator. "We kicked around lots of names," he said, and always considered but was not wedded to using famous Jewish actors. "We kept winnowing and winnowing the list" he said, "and Shatner's name kept coming up. And it wouldn't go away."
Itkin contacted Shatner, and it turned out that not only was he interested, he was available on the needed dates.
"It was intriguing," Shatner recalled.
So with little preparation, other than years of reading the haggadah at seders, Shatner arrived in Little Rock the night before the first performance.
"He was great fun to be around," Itkin recalled.
There were two rehearsals and two performances -- one on Friday and one on Saturday night. Itkin was impressed by how Shatner was able to deliver his narrative within the very proscribed places and vary each character, much like different "takes," affording choices for editing the eventual produced work.
"On Saturday," Shatner said, "everything fell into place." He reveled in the experience of being on stage with 350 choral members and a 72-piece orchestra, he said.
"There's no magic like a live audience," Shatner says in the recording's liner notes. "The performer sends out the words, the music, the love, and he gets back the energy of the audience in waves."
In the final section, "Redemption," he intones the words of the priestly blessing: "May the Lord Bless you and keep you; may he be gracious to you; may the Lord make the light of his countenance to shine upon you; and may he grant you peace."
"The words were like a benediction over the whole audience." Shatner recalled.
At the seders I attend, I am not above some moments of audio-visual enhancement. I recall one spectacular seder where, at the strategic moment, the late Charlton Heston burst onto a screen to part the Red Sea. In recent years, the immediate post-seder entertainment has been funny Passovers songs (like "There's No Seder Like Our Seder" to tune of "There's No Business Like Show Business"). This year may well find our seder going forth with Shatner and the "Exodus Oratorio."
And let us all together say: Amen.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.
Audio courtesy JTA
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