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Family brings ‘Technicolor Dreamcoat’ to life for bar mitzvah

Refusing to let plans be ruined by pandemic, musical theater-crazy Jerusalem family spend 6 months planning, rehearsing and filming classic in desert for single showing

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The family and friends cast of 'Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,' a production created solely for the coronavirus bar mitzvah celebration of Jerusalem 13-year-old Adin Markowitz (Courtesy Laura Ben-David)
The family and friends cast of 'Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,' a production created solely for the coronavirus bar mitzvah celebration of Jerusalem 13-year-old Adin Markowitz (Courtesy Laura Ben-David)

Through a year of uncertainties, with bar and bat mitzvahs moving from event halls to Zoom screens, Adin Markowitz was sure of only one thing: When he turned 13 in December, his bar mitzvah would include singing, over-the-top dancing and a famous coat of many colors, come pandemic or high water.

It’s traditional for bar and bat mitzvah celebrants to chant the Torah portion in synagogue as they mark the rite of passage. For Markowitz, who was born on Hanukkah, that meant he would be reading Parashat Miketz, which tells the story of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt.

Together with the previous week’s portion — Vayeshev, in which Joseph is given a multicolored coat from his father and is sold into slavery his brothers — the tale makes up the bulk of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 1968 Broadway musical comedy “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

The show is a family favorite and the plans to have a “Joseph” bar mitzvah have been a family joke pretty much since Markowitz was born, said mom Gaby Shine, a regular in the Jerusalem community theater circuit who has raised her four children on musical theater.

“I’m a musical mad mom,” said Shine, who immigrated to Israel from England 28 years ago. “His whole birth was melodramatic, he was born at home in 10 minutes, and when we were on our way to the hospital, I said, ‘wait a minute, what’s the parsha? Joseph!”

Adin Markowitz, center, with his sister, Mia, left, grandmother Sylvia Shine, and mother, Gaby Shine, right in his bar mitzvah filmed version of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ (Courtesy Laura Ben-David)

As the third of the four Markowitz offspring, Adin was following in his siblings’ musical footsteps. His oldest brother, Eliav, celebrated his bar mitzvah playing the recorder with an orchestra at the Jerusalem conservatory where he studied. His sister, Mia, marked her bat mitzvah with a live Abba concert — costumes and all — performed by the family at Jerusalem’s First Station complex.

“We like to do bar mitzvahs that are fun, a little different,” said Shine. “Bar and bat mitzvahs get a little tedious and for me, these celebrations are about finding the thing that makes your kid shine for themselves.”

The family and friends cast of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ a production created solely for the coronavirus bar mitzvah celebration of Jerusalem 13-year-old Adin Markowitz (Courtesy Laura Ben-David)

The original plan was to scout out a local theater and perform a live “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” production starring whoever wanted to join in, along with the bar mitzvah boy, of course. The audience would be the invited guests.

And then the coronavirus hit.

By April, Shine had two goals: She wanted to be sure that Adin would feel special on his bar mitzvah day, despite the many challenges of the pandemic. Her second goal was to avoid Zoom bar mitzvah and speeches, and to create something that would be enjoyed by everyone, guests included.

She brainstormed on Zoom with her community theater friends, and Marty Weisel, member of local group Jerusalem English Theater, proposed making a movie of their Joseph performance.

Shine got busy. The official score for the production was expensive to license, but she wrote to the company that owns the orchestration, explaining their story, and received permission to use the music for their celebration.

Stephen Markowitz, left, playing Pharaoh in the filmed version of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ for his son Adin’s coronavirus bar mitzvah (Courtesy Laura Ben-David)

Shine, her family and friends then recorded each of the songs from the play, working in pods, with plans to lip-sync the words without masks when the video was made later on.

They were careful to adhere to all of Israel’s coronavirus rules, including careful social distancing, mask-wearing and capsules, as Shine’s mother is 94 and her youngest daughter, Hallel, has Down syndrome and has remained at home since the start of the pandemic.

Intensive rehearsals were held in a park near their home, and much of the filming took place on a brutally hot day in August near Herodion National Park in the West Bank southeast of Jerusalem. The ancient fortress built on a man-made mountain by king Herod in the Judean Desert in 23 BCE made the perfect desert backdrop for retelling the story of biblical Joseph and his multi-colored coat, even if not exactly historically accurate.

Goats, camels and dancers in the very personal production of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ for Adin Markowitz’s coronavirus bar mitzvah (Courtesy Laura Ben-David)

They had camels and a goat from a friend’s nearby petting zoo, 43-degree Celsius heat and “Adin was just in shock,” said Shine. “He thought it was really cool.”

The bar mitzvah boy had the lead role as Joseph, and his mother and sister were the show’s narrators. Adin’s older brother, Eliav, played one of Joseph’s brothers and watched over his youngest sister, Hallel, in the role of Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother. Markowitz’s 94-year-old grandmother, Sylvia Shine, was the obvious choice for Jacob, and Adin’s father, Stephen Markowitz, was a ringer for the Egyptian Pharaoh (or at least what he may have looked like).

“Stephen is my hero,” said Shine. “Asking him to be Pharaoh and sing in front of hundreds of people is the equivalent of asking me to play soccer in Wembley stadium; I can’t kick a ball straight.”

Hallel Markowitz, far left and her older brother, Eliav Markowitz, above her, stuck together during the filming of their brother’s bar mitzvah production of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ (Courtesy Laura Ben-David)

It became more complicated to film the rest of the show in September, when Israel went into its second lockdown in the middle of the month, but the family persevered and the movie premiered for its one and only public screening on December 16, the sixth day of Hanukkah, Adin’s bar mitzvah day.

The family, accompanied by several friends and relatives, held a small morning service at their home. Adin, decked in a technicolor tie and a tallit with technicolor stripes, chanted the Torah portion while surrounded by a wall of technicolor balloons. They then screened the original movie production online to their friends and family in Israel and abroad.

Bar mitzvah boy Adin Markowitz, center, with his father, Stephen Markowitz (second from left), younger sister Hallel (left) and older brother Eliav, right, at his Hanukkah bar mitzvah on December 16, 2020 (Courtesy Gaby Shine)

“The Zoom bar mitzvah was a watch party,” said Shine. “It was joy, and it brought people joy.”

The movie could only be shown to an audience that one time, in line with Shine’s agreement with the “Joseph” orchestration owners.

But her joy and glee aren’t dimmed by the restrictions.

“It was six months of amazingness and community and not being isolated, and what we love doing, in honor of a bar mitzvah,” said Shine.

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