Lions Gate Spielers getting ready for their big Purim performance

For the Voice

From the auditorium in Lions Gate’s main building came the joyful sound of music. A glance inside that room explained just why.

On the stage was a group of sprightly senior residents clearly delighting in their rehearsal for a very important event to the members of the proud Lions Gate Spielers, a group of 15 resident performers, including writers, costumers, and tap dancers.

On a recent morning, with just few days to go, they were preparing for an annual event familiarly known as a Purim Spiel. It’s a chance to rethink the story of Purim, using wonderful parodies of famous musicals.

These seniors, full of energy and spunk, were following a long tradition of participatory theater at the well-known Jewish Senior Housing & Healthcare Service (JSHHS) facility, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey.

Lions Gate Spielers performing in a past show. A performance will be held on Wednesday, Mar. 23, and the public is invited.
Lions Gate Spielers performing in a past show. A performance will be held on Wednesday, Mar. 23, and the public is invited.

“I’m loving it,” said Jackie Levitt, a proud member and choreographer of the “Toe Tappers,” a tap dance ensemble within the group who liven up its very special annual musicals, as well as the Purim Spiel. Bonnie Rosenberg, a member of the ensemble, was ready to tap.

Levitt, who also plays Vashti, is a vocal spokeswoman for the Spielers. “We want the whole world to know that we’re not just sitting around at Lions Gate—we’re performing and doing some very ambitious theater here,” said Jackie, who began tap dancing at age five, and hasn’t stopped.

Sydney Kershner, a former builder and developer, was sitting near the right side of the stage in the role of narrator. In a wheelchair, and aided by his beloved therapy dog, Kershner had not done theater earlier in his life, but has a wonderful, sonorous voice, and uses it well to keep the plot moving through his narration.

What The Lions Gate Spielers have in common is a love of entertaining–and humor.

The juxtaposition of Jewish historical lore mixed into music from shows like “West Side Story” is at once delightful–and hilarious.

Case in point: “West Side Story’s iconic ‘Tonight’ transferred from ‘Tonight, Tonight, It All Began Tonight’ to ‘Tonight, Tonight, I’ll Eat a Feast Tonight.’”

And so it goes as residents take on the roles like Queen Esther, ably played by Claire Sussman, a newcomer to the merry Spielers, and enjoying every moment.

Bill Saslow, who loves to sing, is pleased to be one of the brave men in the group, outnumbered by the women. But, it must be noted, he landed the role of King Achashverosh.

He joined the cast because of his wife, Bernice, another Spieler, and has no regrets.

Ditto for Bill Kushner, who plays the wicked Haman, and is the group’s veteran stand-up comic.

These merrymakers recently performed their major annual musical, a spoof dedicated to British Queen Elizabeth’s milestone 90th birthday.

It is the 13th year that a truly ambitious musical has been performed at Lions Gate, which has received a great deal of attention for its unique and sustained theater group.

Other members for this year’s Purim Spiel include Eric Bloch, representing the community’s male talent as Uncle Mordecai, the gifted pianist/accompanist Evelyn Osherow; and the fearless and capable producer, Lucille Goff, who tends to all the details of organizing, planning and getting from page to stage.

Rena Sherman, a lifetime actress with credits that are truly awesome, sees to the directing, flow and script of the Spiel. A former social worker for the Jewish Family Service of Philadelphia, Sherman’s twin passions have been her professional career and her theater career. “I just adore anything involving theater, and working with this group has been not just meaningful, but also fun.”

Perhaps the most remarkable asset to the entire group is 96-year-old technical maven, Ernie Jellinek, a former RCA engineer who has devoted endless hours to seeing to the technical/audio/computer needs of the Spielers.

“I learned most of what I know in audio and video long after I left RCA as a systems manager,” said Jellinek, who is clearly adored and admired for his deep commitment. He also videotapes productions, which end up on YouTube

“I don’t need any praise to do what I do,” he said modestly. “These are good people and this is a wonderful place.”

The Purim production by the Lions Gate Spielers will be on Wednesday, Mar. 23 at Lions Gate in Voorhees. The public is invited. Admission is free.

For show time and more information call Lions Gate at (856) 782-1200. s

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