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SJCC director Alpern (and Peter Pan) return
After almost a decade, singer, songwriter, musician and choreographer Daniel Alpern has returned to Mercer Island to revitalize the Stroum JCC’s Center Stage theater program. The program is aimed at theater enthusiasts of all ages, from elementary schoolers to their parents and grandparents. Center Stage’s latest product is Alpern’s original play, “Peter Pan Returns.”
Alpern’s version of the play has all of the characters of the classic “Peter Pan,” but he has tweaked it to incorporate Jewish values and themes, which is Alpern’s stock-in-trade style that has served him well throughout his 31-year theater career around the country.
The storyline picks up where the original ends, but this version is set in the future.
“It’s got a Jewish flavor and concept, but it takes place 70 years later,” Alpern told JTNews from his office at the SJCC, where he is planning the rest of his first season back at Center Stage theater.
“It starts with the ending [of the original story] and the big fight between Hook and Pan. Neverland has become an evil place and Peter Pan has disappeared. Tiger Lilly, the Crocodile and Tinker Bell go to look for Wendy, who is a 60-ish Jewish mom, and ask her to heal Neverland. It’s a play in which tikkun olam is the theme, but it’s based more from the book with a time travel twist.”
According to Alpern, “Peter Pan Returns” is going to be written to accommodate whoever auditions. If he needs extra characters, he’s going to create them. It only takes him about a day. And you don’t have to be Jewish to be in the productions. Everyone gets in, there is no charge to participate, and no one is turned away.
“It’s not a youth theater,” Alpern said. “It’s a theater with the focus on youth, but parents can be in the show. This does two things: It gives credibility to the show … and they’re mentors to the kids. We’re creating a hybrid of community, family and youth.”
He already knows of four families that have decided to audition together, as families, he said.
Alpern grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied theater at Emerson College in Boston. He’s been in the Jewish communal field for 16 years and has written and directed more than 300 shows. .
“I was raised in a very creative household,” Alpern said. “I went to music theory classes from kindergarten through 12th grade and I studied the trombone from 4th grade to the 10th grade.”
He first began working at the JCC on Mercer Island in 1992 and was their youth and theater director there by the time he left in 2000. From 2001 until 2008, he taught at Temple B’nai Torah as a drama and education teacher where he used drama to teach Torah Studies and Judaic subjects.
Alpern was the resident director of the Bellevue Youth Theater from 2002 to 2009 as well, and he’s applying their model to the SJCC Center Stage. He created a program called Academy that lets children create their own shows.
“The only thing I give them is a character,” Alpern said.
He’s also directed plays at the Highland Community Center in Bellevue starring people with disabilities.
“I want to get Jewish people with disabilities to perform,” Alpern said. He has already begun working with Jewish Family Service and Cantor David Serkin-Poole of Temple B’nai Torah to see that dream become a reality.
“I want Jewish kids of all denominations doing something together,” said Alpern. “Jewish kids love to do shows like Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Grease, Oliver and Bye, Bye, Birdie. They simply would not get the opportunity to do these shows since many of them cannot participate in Friday evening performances.”
Alpern has adapted many famous stories into Jewish versions as well, with titles like Harry Potterstein, Willy Wonka and the Hanukkah Factory, The Show Must Go On (a play about doing a play) and The Casebook of Sherlock Cohen, which he said is hysterically funny and will probably do again in the spring.
“I was so thrilled when the JCC called on me and asked me to come back and get Center Stage going again,” Alpern said. “Center Stage is an institution within an institution. My goal is that when I leave Center Stage, it doesn’t disappear.”
Reprinted with permission from the JTNews. Performances are: Thursday, December 3, 7 p.m., Saturday, December 5, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, December 6, 7 p.m.,Saturday, December 12, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 13, 2:30 p.m. For ticket information go to www.sjcc.org.