Middle East Is Backdrop of New 'Monte Cristo' Musical, Zev, in April 15 Reading

News   Middle East Is Backdrop of New 'Monte Cristo' Musical, Zev, in April 15 Reading Timely as today's headlines, Zev, a new Middle East-set "epic musical about war and peace," will get a staged reading in Manhattan April 15.

Timely as today's headlines, Zev, a new Middle East-set "epic musical about war and peace," will get a staged reading in Manhattan April 15.

The show begins in Palestine in 1948 and mixes in elements of "The Count of Monte Cristo" over the course of 25 years, to 1973, said Benjamin Dupont-Jubien, the French lyricist who created the show with French composer-director Eric Szerman. The pair are now members of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in New York City, but began writing together in France, collaborating on this American-aimed project much like Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil (Les Misérables, Miss Saigon) did — with the intention of English-language staging. Dupont-Jubien and Szerman penned a sung-through version of the show in French and then enlisted British lyricist Georgina St. George to write English language lyrics. Over the past few years they sought advice from Schönberg, and consider him a mentor.

An announcement for the show describes the work this way: "After one year of violence between the Jewish and the Arab populations, the creation of the State of Israel is announced. In a small Jewish village facing war, a young idealistic man, Zev, is betrayed by a jealous friend who is in love with his fiancée."

Thus begins "for Zev a long path of revenge in a land fighting for peace…"

The project began as a straight adaptation of the Dumas novel, but the pair decided to set it in Israel. The main character's major moments coincide with major events in modern Middle East history, bringing more weight to the drama, Dupont-Jubien told Playbill On-Line. "In 1948, when we start, there is the Independence War, the creation of the state," he explained. "In 1966 when [Zev] escapes, it's the liberation of Jerusalem and the Six Day War, and then we end the show with the 1973 Yom Kippur War...''

In retelling of the classic revenge tale, the authors "wanted to show that revenge doesn't bring anything but destruction and hate."

Dupont-Jubien said, "We wanted to write about Israel, but if you talk about it directly it's a mistake. A lot of people have different opinions. The way we do it, showing the journey of one guy, it allowed us to show the situation without taking sides."

Composer Szerman directs the reading, which marks the first full public airing of the show. In its development process it became a more traditional book musical rather than a sung through event, Dupont-Jubien said.

Admission is free and open to the public. The presentation is 8 PM April 15 at the Samuel Priest Rose Building, 334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street, at the JCC in Manhattan.

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Performers in the reading include Maurice Villa-Lobos (Zev), currently in the Broadway production of Cabaret; Lia Koch (Sarah), who was born in Israel, where her credits included Master Class, Grease The Trojan Women, Pinnochio and more; Michael McCoy (Joshua), who has appeared at Virginia Stage Company, Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Walnut Street Theater; Doug Shapiro (Victor); Lucia Giannetta (Noa), of the recent Off-Broadway revival of Godspell at the York Theatre; Gregory Allan Bock (David), of the 30th anniversary tour of Hair.

— By Kenneth Jones