I’m not a theater buff. “West Side Story” is the only musical with which I have more than passing familiarity. So when a friend sent me an email invitation to see her perform in a community theater production of “Les Miserables,” I nearly passed it over. But upon further inspection, I realized this was no ordinary production. This cast was comprised of Jewish women. Men, in fact, were not allowed — not on stage, and not in the audience. This rendering of Les Miz was the fifth annual production of the Los Angeles-based Jewish Women’s Repertory Company. Three performances at a 400-seat venue scheduled for December 1 and 2 were nearly sold out.
I decided to check out the dress rehearsal. Driving there, I passed a giant billboard for what appeared to be a forthcoming film version of “Les Miserables” starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. Though I’m clueless, you probably already knew about the movie; it turns out that many Jewish women tend to nurture a particular fondness for this musical. So, too, the more observant ones for whom this all-women production serves as the only outlet for secular performance. At least one-third of the company adheres to the observance of Kol Isha, a modesty law that prohibits men from hearing women’s singing voices.
“When I started the group, I did it mostly for women [who adhere to Kol Isha] and to some extent I still do,” says director Margy Horowitz. “But now it’s half for that and half because we just love the camaraderie of it.” Though some of the women won’t sing when the janitorial staff passes through the rehearsal space, the group did get approval from a rabbi to work with male technical crews to put on the show.