August 09, 2011

Two Mahopac residents collaborate for Manhattan musical

Running from Aug. 14 to 25 at the Bleecker Street Theatre in Manhattan, "The Seed of Abraham" is the product of a collaborative effort between two Mahopac artists, Bob Zaslow and Kenny Karen.

The musical takes place in 1967, during the Six-Day War, and focuses on three young people growing up in the Bronx. Benjamin, a promising young musician, Abraham, a talented dancer, and Leah, a budding journalist, all defy their parents and find themselves on the brink of success, but the war will test their loyalties and change their futures.

Zaslow came up with the idea for the play after hearing Karen's album, "Choir Boy," and was moved by the beauty of the songs, he said.

"I listened again. And again. And I knew I had to figure out a way to get these songs heard," Zaslow said. The CD highlights some of Karen's Judaic writing, and he was happy to let Zaslow use his songs.

"I chronicle my life in this manner," Karen said. "Since my intentions do not have ulterior motives other than to write to the absolute best of my abilities, I agreed," and a mutually beneficial and productive partnership was born.

Just as Karen's music inspired Zaslow's writing, the writing also began to inspire the music.

"There were numerous scenes along the way requiring new songs," Karen said. They worked on the piece for over a year, writing and rewriting to craft a story that is at once personal and expansive, local and international. The collaboration was a smooth one, though Karen had not collaborated with anyone since he was in his 20s.

"My songs are my identity, my lifeline," he said, but, "Bob's energy is infectious. He's an absolutely lovely man who is amenable to redirecting his original concepts without any loss of integrity. Zaslow agreed about the ease of working together completely, saying, "Collaborating with Kenny was a dream. He is so easy to work with."

Karen's career began by singing demo recordings for music publishers attempting to place their songs with major artists like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. During this time, he continued his study with masters of Jewish music, fusing together the cultural and theological aspects of his soul and work. His voice has been heard in over 15,000 commercials, and he won the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences' MVP award for six years in a row.

Zaslow's career has been less straightforward, but equally esteemed. He began by working as a documentary filmmaker before moving into advertising as a copywriter, working on commercials for such prestigious companies as Maalox, Sprint, and Prestone. After 15 years, he changed careers again, becoming a teacher in the Bronx, a position he still holds today. It was during this time that he began to write, working on one-act comedies, two full-length comedies, and, of course, on "The Seed of Abraham." He has been a finalist in the Aery Play Festival three times.

Both also cite Lake Mahopac and the local community as inspirational. Croton resident Sally Burtenshaw is directing the piece, and Zaslow and Karen met because their sons worked together on The Chieftain at Mahopac High School. Both came to the town within five years of each other in the late 70s and early 80s, and both moved to be near the lake and raise their families.

They also share a love for the water, which inspires their work.

"Lake Mahopac is such a beautiful place to come home to," Zaslow said. "I've gotten ideas for scenes and plays just rowing in the morning."

Karen echoes this.

"My piano sits in a corner of our living room, which faces not only the water, but every evening's sunset as well," Karen said. The lake is always soothing, but I find inspiration everywhere."

If You Go: The Seed of Abraham – www.seedofabrahamamusical.com

Bleecker Street Theatre – 45 Bleecker St., New York, NY

8/14 – 2:30pm; 8/17 – 2:30pm; 8/19 – 9pm; 8/23 – 6:15pm; 8/25 – 8:45pm

Tickets: $15 in advance/$18 at the door – 866.468.7919 – www.fringenyc.org

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