News and Updates

News and Updates

Follow us as we get ready to perform The Sparks Fly Upward for you. We’ll tell you stories about the opera and its cast and crew, as well as give you updates on our progress. Join us and become part of the story!

Meet the Cast and Crew, #2: Sharon Shaffer

In this series of posts, we’ll get to know the people in this production and their many connections with and feelings about participating.


My mother Helen Fruchter (of blessed memory) was a survivor of the Holocaust. Born in Belgium, she suffered at the hands of the Nazis and was a hidden child. All her cousins survived the war, as they were hidden and then transported on the Kindertransport to England and Switzerland, but sadly, many of the adult family members did not survive.

My mother, being so young was unable to get out in time, so she spent the entire war being shuffled from hiding place to hiding place, each one more terrible than the last. She suffered many abuses and the physical and psychological torture were immeasurable.

She finally ended up in a work camp but escaped and was rescued by Père Bruno, a righteous catholic priest who arranged for her to get false papers. He put her on a train to a displaced persons camp in Switzerland. After the war, the Red Cross reunited her with her sister, who had spent the war in England, and then they both made the journey by boat to America, where their parents were waiting.

Being a Jew, I believe we all feel that the story of the Holocaust cannot be forgotten, so we tell the stories of our people. They are important to tell, and being an artist, I feel using the arts is a particularly poignant way of conveying these stories.

Hard at work rehearsing

With a only a few weeks to go, we are hard at work rehearsing. Blocking is beginning, and measurements have been taken for costumes. There are so many pieces to a theatrical production, that it takes a small army of professionals to bring it all together: singers, musicians, directors, designers, costumers, and so on. The dedication of the cast and crew produces a palpable energy, even when the hours are late and long, and the intensity increases as the opening night approaches.

Here are some photos of our rehearsals. Please spread the word and join us for the performances!

  • Abby Pokrywka (Mary)
  • Abby Pokrywka and Henry Miller
  • Group Shot 2
  • Group Shot 3
  • Caven Swift
  • Laura Schapiro
  • Kathy Sebo
  • Cathy Lesser Mansfield
  • David Robison
  • Kathy Sebo
  • Daniel Singer
  • Lifan Deng
  • Lizzie Walsh
  • Elizabeth Roter, Ross Williams, and Connor Stout
  • Rehearsal
  • Seth Hobi

Meet the Cast and Crew, #1

In this series of posts, we’ll get to know the people in this production and their many connections with and feelings about participating.
Cheryl Eitman
Candle Blesser / Chorus

Cheryl Eitman

I am Jewish and I have always had a special place in my heart for Holocaust survivors and their families. This production honors those who were lost by keeping their memories alive. One of my favorite things about being part of this production is hearing the stories Cathy discovered in her research.

The characters are based on real people. The lyrics are based on real letters and diaries that were found. I had a very dear friend who was a survivor. She came over for dinner one night and completely broke down and needed to leave when she saw that I served baked potatoes for dinner. She recalled being forced to walk 30 miles next to wagons carrying potatoes. If a potato dropped to the ground and someone picked it up, they were shot. We must never forget. Never again.

Harvey Bernstein

Harvey Bernstein
Lotte’s Boss / Chorus

As a man of Jewish faith, I connect with the opera through the people in my life who were survivors or knew people that went through it. For instance, when I was a kid, my neighbor had a tattoo with a number on his arm. He explained what it meant.

I want the audience to remember that this happened and should never happen again.

Adam Leventhal

Stage Manager

I was born and raised in Beachwood, as well as being raised Jewish. I have been to the camps in Europe. That’s a very somber experience, and it is my understanding that a large portion of my family never returned from the Holocaust.

I have also performed in the Diary of Anne Frank, which was an honor. This show adds to my list of shows that are my way of remembering and paying tribute to what happened.

And we’re off! Cast and crew meet for the first time

Whole meet and greet crew

On Sunday afternoon, April 10th, the cast and crew of our production met for the first time. Although the production team has been in planning for months, this was our first opportunity to meet the people with whom we will spend so many hours over the next two months.

Over lovely nosh and convivial beverages, we met our new family. Cathy, the composer, introduced us all to each other by our roles and our relationships. “This is your wife.” “This is your daughter.” The weaving together of these families, so central to the story of The Sparks Fly Upward, is already beginning.

Cathy Lesser Mansfield, Composer

It is powerful to have so many people investing in this project that means so much to me.

Cathy lesser Mansfield, Composer

Cathy told us the stories behind the story, and how the opera came into being, first as a commissioned piece, and then later elaborated into a full opera.

Our director, Jeff, described considerations of the Maltz Performing Arts Center as a theater space, and gave us a sense of how the production would come together.

Jeffrey Lesser
Jeff Lesser, Director

So excited to begin working with these talented people who started to form a new family of The Sparks Fly Upward

Jeff Lesser, Director

We have a long way to go, and the journey promises to be life-giving, as well as lots of hard work. Enjoy the photos!

  • The Meet-and-Greet Special Event
  • Cathy Lesser Mansfield
  • Jeffrey Lesser
  • Henry Miller
  • Adam Leventhal and Terry Smith
  • Terry Smith and Cathy Lesser Mansfield
  • Conor Stout
  • Jeffrey Lesser and Stephen Gracey
  • Cathy Lesser Mansfield
  • Cathy Lesser Mansfield, Henry Miller, and David Miller
  • Cathy Lesser Mansfield and Lisa Falkenberg
  • Craig Housum
  • Cheryl Eitman
  • Harvey Bernstein
  • David Miller
  • Welcome Hug
  • Laura Schapiro
  • Lia Bendix
  • Kathy Sebo