All of the music heard in The Last Boy has a strong Czech connection. The songs the boys sing in the play are ones they made up themselves, learned in Terezín from adults, or heard in their mothers' arms or on their fathers' knees. The classical music featured in the play is drawn from the canon of the "Big 3" Czech composers: Anton Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, and Leoš Janáček. The boys would have been intimately familiar with their music.
Poetry are words strung together so that they "sing." So in this sense, every poem, prose and story from Vedem magazine that the boys recite in the play is music as well. This is an excerpt of Sidney Taussig, the real "last boy" who inspired the play, "singing" a poem from Vedem - 75 years later at age 90!
Every Friday night the boys of Dorm Number One (a.k.a. The Second Republic of SHKID), would gather to recite that week's edition of Vedem magazine. It would become the longest-running publication of the Holocaust. Before any of the poems, prose and stories were read, the boys would sing their official "Anthem" that they wrote themselves. Here is the real "last boy," Sidney Taussig, singing the Anthem in duet with Jeremey, one of the boys from Keystone State Boychoir who helped playwright Steve Fisher develop the play during Covid.
When you enter the theatre to see The Last Boy....a new play with music, you are bathed in the sublimity of this extraordinary piece by Anton Dvořák.
The very first singing you hear in The Last Boy...a new play with music is a boy soprano singing this haunting melody.
"Going Home" comes from the 2nd movement of Anton Dvořák's "From the New World" Symphony. The Czech composer actually wrote the work in New York City, at his home near Stuyvesant Park. You hear the piece's famous melody throughout The Last Boy...a new play with music. You'll be humming it out the door, and probably for the rest of your life. It's the kind of melody that, once you hear it, it never leaves you. And whenever you do hum it, you'll remember the boys. They won't leave you either. #neverforget
"Sleep, my child, sleep" is a lullaby Czech mothers have been singing to their children for hundreds of years. The boys sing it in the play, at first tongue in cheek. But then, at the end of the show, they sing it with a profoundness that will both break and mend your heart.
You'll find out when you see The Last Boy. You'll also hear Bedřich Smetana's gorgeous "Chanson" from his 6 Album Leaves. In the play, it follows the boys breathtaking "silent" reciting of "Prague...A Fairy Tale" a poem written by the play's character Hanus. The role was inspired by the real life Hanus Hachenburg, who did not survive. But we know Hanus kept writing poetry after he was sent from Terezín to Auschwitz, because several Auschwitz survivors recount that a boy named Hanus would wrote poems, and then send them around the barracks o give comfort to his fellow prisoners. Hanus lives on
...and The Last Boy...a new play with music is no exception. The love story between Ela, Prague's finest piano teacher, and Maestro, the Dorm Dad of Dorm Number One, will warm your heart. In the play, it is embodied by an excerpt from Dvořák's Romance for Violin and Orchestra.
....according to Maestro, the Dorm Dad of Dorm Number One. 1 of the 7 is "the comedian." An excerpt from Smetana's Dance Comedians embodies the character Bedrich, who serves as the resident "Court Jester."
Jiri, the "charmer" of The Last Boy...a new play with music, will tell you. In his youthful optimism, he's sure he will be reunited with his first love Ruth after she is transported from Terezín to Auschwitz. And he is - through the eternal power of poetry!
Remember those winter mornings as a child when you'd wake up and look out the window to find that the whole world was covered in a perfect, untouched blanket of snow. The silence, the stillness, the serenity - you wished it could last forever. The boys would wake up in Terezín to find such beauty. In The Last Boy...a new play with music, Leoš Janáček's In the Mists helps paint this scene, when a blizzard has covers the filth of the camp that normally surrounds the boys. "As in a dream, we can breathe again freely."
"Pomp and Circumstance" sets the tone for the scene when Dorm Number One is renamed "The Second Republic of SHKID." From that moment on, the boys govern themselves and, through both Vedem magazine and music, liberate themselves through the power of the creative arts. The boys Dorm Dad, who they called "Maestro," introduced them to many empowering ideas, and great pieces of music as well - like Elgar's most famous piece. Maestro reminds us of the power that teachers have to change their students' lives forever.
Speaking of the power of teachers, the character Ela gives our protagonist, Matyas, the gift of music making. Is there a more beautiful piece than Smetana's Vltava (also know by its German title The Moldau)? With most classical works, the musical ideas for them come from folk songs. Smetana wrote Vltava based on the Czech children's song "The Cat Crawled Through The Hole." Vltava, in turn, was used as the basis for the Israeli National Anthem, "Hatikvah."
At he and Ela's simple Terezín wedding, Maestro surprises 13 year-old, relgious-minded Ralph with the chance to make his Bar Mitvah. Matyas, in turn, surprises Ela and Maestro with a reception afterwards. A fellow musician, Matyas plays on the heligonka in their honor, the "The Wedding Procession," from the beloved Czech opera The Bartered Bride. Because the Nazis ran Terezín as a propaganda camp, at times there could be a superficial sense of normalcy. Carefully crafted events such as weddings, concerts, and theatrical events too place.
What Jewish wedding would be complete without it? Matyas and Maestro play it as a duet on their respective instruments - the heligonka (Czech accordion) and the violin.
...is one of the most famous art songs in all of classical music. In the play, Ela performs it on the piano, as it has great relevancy for her as the "mother" of the boys of Dorm Number One. All Czechs know and love this piece, and you will too once you see The Last Boy...a new play with music.
The boys celebrate New Year's Eve 1944 by organizing a parade throughout the Children's Barracks. They visited every dormitory, cheering up the children who remained at that point. Of the 15,000 young people who passed through, only 100 survived the war. But their legacy lives on thanks to YOU. The way we never forget is to remember.
...Matyas declares to Maestro during a rehearsal in Act II. Maestro points out that, though Mozart might have been ahead of his time by agreeing to collaborate with Jews, he was very likely anti-Semitic along with the rest of Europe. In The Last Boy...a new play with music, Matyas gets the chance to play in the pit orchestra of several Terezín propaganda productions, including Mozart's The Magic Flute. This famous trio from the work embodies the characters of Ralph, Otto and Hanus.
In The Last Boy, Matyas plays the piano in the pit orchestra of Terezín productions of Brundibar. Hans Krasa, the composer of this famous children's opera, was eventually sent to Auschwitz, where he perished. This live excerpt from the opera, which was performed over 50 times in the camp, was filmed for inclusion in a Nazi propaganda film. The children who appear on stage were all sent to Auschwitz two weeks filming. Ela Weisberger, who played the original cat (to the left of the organ grinder at center) survived Auschwitz, and lived a long life. The fictional character of Ela in the play is named in her memory.
The boys dreamed about escaping to America. The real "last boy," Sidney Taussig, did! After rescuing Vedem magazine from being burned by the Nazis, Sidney emigrated to NYC. His many grandchildren prove that ultimately, hate didn't win. Sidney has never forgotten his roommates, most of whom did not survive. But thanks to him, their lives were not in vain. He and the 800 pages of Vedem is why this play exists. The historical record and the literary contributions of Vedem is the lasting legacy of the boys' of Dorm Number One, and a reminder that hate is still with us, around us, and in us. When we think that it is not, and let our guard down, it begins again. That's why we mustn't forget.