Sim Glaser’s New Musical Set For JCC Premiere

Before Sim Glaser retired from being a rabbi at Temple Israel, it turns out he may have stumbled into a retirement hobby: Facebook stalker.

“I never go on Facebook, but I thought if there was ever a time for it, this was it,” he said.

The “this” Glaser referenced was tracking down a man named Fred Stang, whose mother is Judy Varga. Varga, in 1961 wrote the book The Dragon Who Liked to Spit Fire, which Glaser had tried to acquire the rights to for a play he was working on based on the book that he loved as a child, and subsequently read to his children and grandchildren.

“I thought maybe if I asked his permission, maybe he’ll give it to me, and then maybe the publisher would be more inclined to (allow it),” Glaser said. “Which is exactly what happened.”

The connection to Stang got the process going with the publisher — and ultimately approved — and the play will be running at the Minnesota JCC – Sabes Center Minneapolis, on Feb. 26-27, and March 5-6, with two shows on each of the Saturdays. There may also be shows on March 2 and 3 for school groups. Tickets for JCC members are $5 for kids and $10 for adults; non-member prices are $7 and $12. Tickets can be purchased online.

A long-time musician, and a rabbi seldom far from his guitar on the bimah, this is the fifth musical that he’s written. Although in most of those instances, he’s worked on either music or music and lyrics. In this case, he wrote all of it.

“I think this is maybe only the second time I’ve done that done at all,” he said. “And now I’m very excited to turn it over to people who are good in the directing and lighting and staging department because I know nothing about that.”

Lea Kalisch stars as the lead and is working as the show’s producer. 

“[Glaser] has a very clear vision on the principles of the show and the execution of certain things,” she said. “He’s been very involved along the way, maybe almost more than he would want to, but it’s just inevitable.”

Pamela Russell, the show’s director, said everyone involved is eager to get back on stage. 

“The only challenges that we’ll hit will be if Covid pops in, and we don’t have a very long rehearsal period so we need everyone to stay healthy and available,” she said. “We just hope that it stays away, and lets us do our thing.”

Russell said that rehearsals are due to get underway in late January, giving the cast about a month to pull the show together. 

Glaser had made some changes to the book – namely the lead character is a princess, rather than a prince. He also added a number of characters to help build out the story and wrote the whole thing in verse.

“The princess’ name is June, so that wasn’t hard (to rhyme to),” he said. “But the dragon’s name is Darius. There are only so many words to rhyme with Darius.”

Getting to this point hasn’t been without its challenges, but now, Kalisch says the cast is doing the fun part — rehearsing. And while the content isn’t Jewish, the show brings a good, positive message.

“The message is basically don’t hide who you are,” she said. “Be yourself and shine your light.”

Showtimes are 2:30 and 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26 and March 5, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27 and March 6. Check out the show’s Facebook page for more information.