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Thursday, October 23, 2014

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This Prince not just another school play

Tags: Jewish learning
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Hebrew Academy music teacher Jean Fiset, centre, leads Hebrew Academy elementary students in the French-language production Le Prince d’Egypte.

MONTREAL — Hebrew Academy elementary school’s recent performance of Le Prince d’Egypte had all the makings of a Broadway show.

The magnificent Olympia Theatre on Ste. Catherine St. announced the evening’s performance on its marquee, and the 900-plus spectators were treated to a magical evening of amazing music, choreography, costumes and visual effects.

Following the success of Hebrew Academy’s production of Le Roi Lion last year, teachers and students in grades 1 through 5 – all of whom performed in the play – were eager for the curtain to rise once again.

Presented in collaboration with the Hebrew Academy Parent Association (HAPA), the production was part of the school’s French and music curricula and represented a culmination of eight months of preparation and about 200 hours of rehearsals.

“We strive to enrich the lives of our students through living experiences that will have a lifelong impact on every child,” said elementary-school principal Rabbi Yamin Benarroch.

“It’s not enough to just open a book and study the text,” added vice-principal Shauna Joyce. “Our teachers strive to bring the text to life by applying it to students’ daily lives.”

The grand end-of-year performance was the brainchild of Jean Fiset, Hebrew Academy’s music teacher, who served as Le Prince d’Egypte’s musical director. In addition to leading the choir arrangements, teaching students to play the recorder for one of the scenes and accompanying them on piano during the show, Fiset also wowed the audience with a show-stopping solo.

Fiset co-produced the show with French-department co-ordinator Miriam Schrager and teachers Myriam Bouhadana and Shirly Amsellem. Parent volunteers and staff from every Hebrew Academy department, including information technology and physical education, designed costumes and sets, created video streams and choreographed dances.

“Le Prince d’Egypte was truly a collaborative effort involving Hebrew Academy administration, staff and parents at all levels,” said HAPA chair Jordana Levy. “They are all to be commended for working together in a harmonious fashion and for leveraging their respective skills in the interest of the play.

“There’s no doubt that the positive energy throughout the process and the rewarding end result greatly fuelled school spirit not only for the adults but for the children as well.”

For Schrager, the performance represented a chance to nurture students’ talents and skills while fostering a greater appreciation for the French language.

“Through an enjoyable and animated activity such as this, our students develop their artistic abilities, creative potentials, confidence as performers and their aptitudes to express themselves and communicate,” she said.

“Their involvement in the play also solidifies their French-language skills through reading, learning and memory, and work with speech, diction and pronunciation. The production of a show allows students to build a new relationship with the French language. It no longer represents a second or foreign language, or complex concept full of rules and exceptions.”

For Hebrew Academy alumnus Barrie Steckler, who came to watch his son, Jaime, perform, the play was “absolutely unbelievable. I find the kids to be incredible,” he said.

Highlights of the show included a circus act in which students twirled ropes attached to iridescent balls that glowed in the dark (a performance art called poi) and a stirring rendition of When You Believe, the Academy Award-winning song featured in the 1998 animated movie The Prince of Egypt.

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