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The Last Supper, A Musical Enactment

Andy Krey

The story begins in 1995 when 33,000 Cuban and 16,000 Haitian beleros, or rafters, fleeing the chaos of those two island countries, were rescued at sea and brought to prison camps at the U.S. Navel Station, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I had been activated as a reservist and a chaplain to make sure the beleros would be treated humanely and that their right to the free exercise of religion would be guarded.

In addition to my normal duties as a chaplain I was required to take on the collateral duty of teaching English classes. Insofar as it was the 500th anniversary of the completion of Leonardo da Vinci's mural The Last Supper, I thought that a chancel drama would be a good way to combine the goals of chaplaincy with the need to teach English.

And so, the initial concept for THE LAST SUPPER was conceived.

The presentation we constructed was very simple: one by one, actors playing each of the disciples stood up and, using texts from the Bible, said who he was, how he had arrived at this point in his life, and wondered if he was the one who'd be the betrayer. There were incidental music interludes between the speeches by individuals who played the guitar, violin or sang. When the last actor finished they were posed in a tableau of Leonardo's Last Supper.

The presentation was a very meaningful experience for those who saw it and those who participated in it. A year later, when I was serving as a missionary with international seafarers and commercial fishers along the coasts of Southern New England I introduced my play concept to some friends and parishioners and it was subsequently performed in Lent of 1996 and 1997. Many of those involved found the experience spiritually rewarding and became emotionally attached to it; some are still involved with it to this day.

The next step in the development of THE LAST SUPPER occurred in 1998, while waiting with a colleague for a table at a restaurant in Manhattan.

Thomas Mitz

So there I was at a restaurant in New York City, eavesdropping on a conversation. I decided to butt in and ask this flannel-shirted rugged-looking fellow if he was, as I had surmised from his conversation, a Lutheran Minister, and did he know the pastor of our own church around the corner? He was and he did. Thus I met Andy. When he learned that I was a writer and artist he asked if I would read and possibly rewrite a play he had. I gave him my address and then a couple of days later a large envelope arrived at my apartment. What I read was a simple folk-style piece where actors stood up and read selections taken directly from the Bible. When the last person had finished, the play was over. I knew nothing further about the history or origin of the play. When we next spoke, I told Andy I thought the basic concept was good but the play had to be entirely rewritten. He asked me to do just that.

So I began to think. Since the play had no forward movement and nothing happened, the tableau of Leonardo's Last Supper must be the climax of the play - the solution to a problem. But what was the problem? The problem, it seemed to me, was in a character that had yet to be introduced - Leonardo da Vinci. Having studied art history, and in particular Vasari's Lives of the Artists I knew of Leonardo's predilection for leaving works unfinished and that on his deathbed in France he had bemoaned the fact that he had offended God and mankind by squandering his talent. At the time of Leonardo's commission to paint The Last Supper, he had never completed a monumental work. Could he do it? Who was the real betrayer? Leonardo was a complex genius and drama necessitates simplification. The challenge for me was to find a way to express the truth of the situation for Leonardo and the disciples. My primary research was Vasari, the Bible, and the painting itself, from which I drew the personalities of those depicted.

I felt strongly from the beginning that this should have original music and be, in fact, a form of a musical, not a play with incidental music. Andy agreed and I asked Gary William Friedman if he'd be interested.

Gary William Friedman

Very little of what I'd been doing in the theatre prepared me for the incredibly unique and 'religious' experience I had while working on the composition and subsequent productions of THE LAST SUPPER.

It began on a day in the fall of 1998 when Thomas Mitz called to tell me that he'd been commissioned to write the libretto and lyrics for a show about how Leonardo da Vinci came to paint the mural depicting Jesus and his disciples at what was to be forever known as The Last Supper.

Knowing that I was not a Christian, he asked with some trepidation if I'd be interested in composing the music for the show.

The question I asked myself was: could I, a composer who is Jewish, create music for a production so firmly rooted in an event so deeply meaningful to Christians? I searched my conscience to seek some kind of answer that could enable me to become a part of this endeavor.

I thought that insofar as The Last Supper was most probably a Passover Seder led by Jesus, who was a Rabbi, it would be in keeping to have the Jesus character sing and speak in Hebrew. This insight somehow gave me the confidence to proceed. I could now be true to Christian history as well as to my Jewish roots.

The theatrical 'modus' of the show is to humanize the Apostles, each of whom comes forward as if right out of the imagination of Leonardo, to express his fears and joys at the prospect of devoting his entire life and being to following this Rabbi, a man whom all sense was in imminent danger.

Each (spoken) statement by an Apostle is characterized and commented upon by the Choir which sings in a highly charged emotional and inspirational manner - a kind of hip Greek Chorus.

As the first production in New York got underway, it was apparent that yet another character needed to be introduced and developed. A character who would serve as an inspirational muse for Leonardo. Thus the Angel was 'born', and having the luxury of my wife Stevie Holland nearby, I proceeded to create musical numbers around her extraordinary voice and presence.

The climax of the show occurs when Jesus appears at the Passover table and begins to chant the Hebrew prayer Sh'ma Yisrael as well as the Blessings (in Hebrew) over the bread and the wine. When He exclaims: "One of you will betray me!", all the Apostles freeze and magically become the actual painting of Leonardo's Last Supper. The Chorus then sings the Sh'ma in English translation - that is, The Lord, Our God Is One!…and to a thundering AMEN the show ends.

May it go on to inspire, enlighten and entertain forever . . . ADONAI ECHAD!

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