The New York Times reports that Ron Meier, the regional director of New York's Anti-Defamation League, contacted Magdalene producer Angelo Fraboni, stating that the production incorporated inaccurate and offensive portrayals of Jews, while mocking practices of Judaism.
The musical has a score by James Olm with a book by Olm and J.C. Hanley. Richard Burk directs the production, which also features Tony Award winner Richard Maltby, Jr. (Closer Than Ever, Baby) as creative consultant. The production began previews June 14 and officially opened June 28 at the Theatre at St. Clement's.
The Magdalene uses the Gnostic gospels to inspire its take on the story of Christ (depicted as Yeshua) and his disciples. Mary Magdalene, who is written as a prostitute in the accepted publications of the bible, is seen in a new light in The Magdalene as Christ's romantic partner.
"There was a meeting with the producers of The Magdalene to address concerns with the Anti-Defamation League. The producers of The Magdalene and the Anti-Defamation League met and progress was made to resolve any issues," a representative for the production told Playbill.com.
Fraboni said he expected to hear objections from members of the Catholic Church rather than members of the Jewish faith. The Magdalene is not the first musical or play to come under fire from religious groups. The 1970's musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, and, more recently, Charles Busch's The Divine Sister and the Tony-winning hit The Book of Mormon, have drawn attention and scorn from people of faith.
According to Meier's e-mail, "The play does indeed contain severe anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic imagery, with a production that disparages and mocks Judaism and Jewish law from beginning to end. Jews are portrayed as sinister, brutal and bloodthirsty characters versus the positive, vivacious characters of Mary, Yeshua (Jesus) and followers."
Fraboni told the Times that he and the creators were open to finding new words within the text that may be perceived as less offensive to followers of Judaism. A disclaimer was also being added to the program that informed theatregoers that some of the portrayals of Jews in the script were based on "traditional views."
The cast includes Lindsie VanWinkle in the title role with John Antony, Eugene Barry-Hill, Xander Chauncey, Caleb Damschroder, Devin DeSantis, Faith Engen, Lauren Fijol, Osborn Focht, Laura Huizenga, Patrick Oliver Jones, Evangelia Kingsley and Shad Olsen.
According to producers, "In this musical, Mary and Yeshua are destined to become husband and wife, and face together the dangerous and corrupt powers of the time—the Roman Empire and the church—not only battling the new religious ideas, but also the resistance to empowering women."