With their creativity and spirit, children have the power to remake the world. In the new musical play, “Hanna and the Moonlit Dress,” based on a classic Israeli children’s tale by Itzhak Schweiger-Dmi’el, a girl learns that her good heart can make everything holy and new. Produced and directed by Ronit Muszkatblit, the production opens this weekend at the 14th Street Y.
The original story, “Hanal’e Ve Ha Simla Shel Shabbat” (Hanna’s Shabbat Dress) was first published in Hebrew in the 1930s in the pages of Davar, which was the first workers’ newspaper in Palestine during the British Mandate. It captured a new generation of American readers in the 1990s, when it was translated into English and illustrated by Ora Eitan; it is now one of the books given to children through the PJ Library program in hundreds of Jewish communities nationwide.
In “Hanna and the Moonlit Dress,” the heroine of the title is given a freshly sewn white dress by her mother. Trying to keep the garment clean, she resists playing with her cow, Edna, and her dog, Zuzzi. But when she sees an elderly man struggling to carry home a bag of coal before the Sabbath, Hanna rushes to his aid, soiling the dress in the process. The disconsolate girl is afraid to face her mother, but the moon turns all of the stains into stars, and the girl’s home is filled with light.
The new production is based in part on a popular Israeli musical version by Rafi Ben Moshe and Ehud Manor. The translation was done by Muszkatblit and Gina Bonati, and new music was composed by Yoav Gal, who also designed the set and costumes. Israeli children’s TV star Adi Ezroni plays the title role, with Rhadi Hughes-Davis and Mik Manenti playing the other characters — both animal and human.
Muszkatblit spent her early childhood in Dusseldorf, Germany, where her parents imbued her with an appreciation of Hebrew-language literature and theater. The family moved back to Israel when she was 9, and she became a theater artist who now works regularly in both Berlin and New York.
In an interview, Muszkatblit told The Jewish Week that the story is “iconic” in Israeli culture, “like Jaffa oranges.” Indeed, songs from the Israeli musical, like “Ima Sheli” (My Mother) are frequently used on children’s TV shows to this day. The book and musical “take you back to your childhood,” Muszkatblit noted, “empowering kids to make a world out of their imagination.”
In order to enlist this transformative energy, members of the audience are invited to come half an hour before the show and take up scissors and glue to help create the paper masks, set, props and costumes. “We want to make something of the concept of Shabbat,” Muszkatblit explained. “Above all, it’s a day for family to be together. And we want children to understand the importance of good deeds — if you put positive energy into the world, something positive will come back to you.”
“Hanna and the Moonlit Dress” is suitable for children 3 and up. It will be performed at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th St. (between First and Second avenues). Performances are Saturday, Jan. 7 and Sunday, Jan. 8 at noon and 4 p.m., as well as Friday, Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 14 at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. For tickets, $15, call the box office at (646) 395-4322 or visit www.14streety.interticket.com.