Operation Moses was the covert operation to remove the Ethiopian Jews- Falasha – from the Sudan during the 1984 famine. The term falasha (what they were called by the others around them) meant alien or invaders even though these people of Beta Israel (House of Israel) had been here long before the others had come. Like Jews everywhere they were shunned by their neighbors and experiences unreasonable anti-Semitism, despite looking like their neighbors.
These Jews, who professed to be descendants of Queen Sheba and King Solomon, still kept the traditional Jewish customs alive, following the words of the Torah. Between 8,000-18,000 Ethiopian Jews were rescued during this time and over 4,000 died on the trek from their mountain villages to the Sudan where the planes would fly them on the “wings of Eagles” to Jerusalem, which prior to this had been a only a dream for them. When the Sudanese government was pressured by the surrounding Muslim countries to stop the airlift, over a thousand were left. These were then rescued with Operation Joshua and Operation Solomon.
The story centers around Desta ( Terry Norman) who is betrothed to Dan ( Tim Brown) but has been putting off the wedding. A Jewish mother is a Jewish mother no matter where they are. Weizero Chana ( Paula Bellamy Franklin,) who belted out many of the songs, is determined to see her son wed, but when she learns that Jerusalem really exists and that she might be able to see it, becomes equally determined to visit the Holy Land.
A white couple, Barbara ( Ms.Christopher Callen) and Rabbi Menachem ( Jerry Hoffman.) come seeking the tribe and tell them about the possibility of leaving the area.
After Almaz is attacked by young Jew haters ( What Can You Do With A Stick?) Desta realized that her only hope for a future is to leave their small community. Their trip is blessed by Aunt Kibrett ( Renda Pettis) and Uncle Tekle ( Jerry Baxter.)
Desta starts out with her brother Joas ( Jermel Nakia) and sister Almaz ( Marcella Lewis) (equally a wonderful singer for a child her age) to reach the Sudan camps and the air lift. In their search for food, Desta meets up with a Muslim family and learns that we are all the same underneath. ( War! War! War!)
Dan and Weizero Chana also travel a different route but meet up at the market place and are guided by Petros ( Ed Tillman.) Dan, after finally declaring his love for Desta, sacrifices his life so that the three women can escape.
Safely at the camp, Desta must then convince the Itzak, the listmaker ( Clent Bowers) that he must include Weizero Chana in his count. His touching song ( Who Shall Decide?) was sung without the benefit of a mike. Clent was also the musical assistant director and vocal director.
Sonia Levitin , author of the book, also wrote the stirring lyrics and William Kevin Anderson made the music – a combination of classic musical and hip hop. The ancestral dancers ( Cara McGee and Jermaine Johnson) were choreographed by Director Donald McKayle.
Executive producer was Lloyd Levitin. Stephanie Powell was Assistance Dance Director and led the other dancers from the Lula Washington Dance Theatre – Haniyyah T Muhammad, Cara Lynne McGee, and Adama Ideozu. Scenic desing was done by Chris Hansen, costumes by Jessica Lynn Champagne, wardrobe master Megan Gurdine, video by Kara Miller, lighting by Don Guy, props by Amy Maier and Crafts by Erik Lawrence. Sound was by Kelvin Noel, Video Technical manager was Marc Sicignano and Stage Manager was Meghan Kennedy. Production manager was Lloyd F. Reese with PR done by Elizabeth Flynn. The logo and program design was done by Kathleen Hein and cast photos by Rose Eichenman.
The Return is a story of courage and compassion; the music is African rhythms merge with modern hip hop, rap styles and Broadway show numbers. The tempo is fast paced and inspiring. I highly recommend this life altering show.
Performances are at the Edgemar Center for the Arts (2437 Main Street; Santa Monica, Ca 90405. The Return appears Thurs –Sat 8pm. Sunday 2pm and 7pm til July 20th. http://www.sonialevitin.com/musical.html
Website is www.returnthemusical.com. Tickets are priced at $34.99 for general admission, $29.99 for seniors and groups, $17.99 for students. Advance tickets are available through the Box Office at (310) 392-7327, and at the door (pending availability).