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‘Bubby’s Kitchen’: A one-woman musical about family resilience shows at UCLA

Shira Ginsburg sets a table on the stage of her one-woman musical, “Bubby’s Kitchen.” The production will take place in Macgowan Hall 1340 on Saturday. (Courtesy of Shira Ginsburg)

“Bubby's Kitchen ”

Oct. 28

Macgowan Hall 1340

By Victoria Munck

Oct. 27, 2023 7:58 p.m.

With a recipe 14 years in the making, “Bubby’s Kitchen” is bringing a tale of love and legacy to UCLA.

Presented by the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, cantor Shira Ginsburg’s one-woman musical will be staged in Macgowan Hall 1340 on Saturday. The production depicts young Ginsburg’s struggle to live up to her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust by fleeing from Nazis in the Belarus forests alongside Partisan resistance fighters. Ginsburg said the show amalgamates various elements including flashbacks, comedy and self-reflection to share a story that centers courage and personal growth.

“It’s the story of what it means to be a grandchild of Holocaust survivors who were also such incredible heroes in so many ways, and how I took on that legacy,” Ginsburg said. “(It’s about) how you propel it forward in positive ways and really become your best self and who you are meant to be, which is, in itself, a journey and a struggle.”

[Related: ‘This Is Not a True Story’ rewrites the stories of tragic Asian heroines]

Ginsburg said she always knew she wanted to share her family’s history in some way, especially because the Partisans are less frequently acknowledged in discussions of World War II. However, it wasn’t until 2009 when she was tasked with creating a performance piece for her master’s thesis that she found an opportunity to bring their story to fruition, Ginsburg said. Because she was pursuing cantorial arts and not theater, she said she didn’t consider expanding the musical until viewers of her thesis production requested a tour.

The support Ginsburg received from early audiences inspired her to take charge of the show’s development, and she said its growth has felt very organic since then. She and her team have continuously tweaked the musical over the years, she said, as they are dedicated to consistently heightening the production. Steven West, who joined “Bubby’s Kitchen” as the production manager in 2014, said it has been touching to see the musical’s prosperity align with Ginsburg’s personal success.

“I have loved watching the show grow as Shira grows in her comfortability with this,” West said. “Inevitably, it has grown because she has grown. … Every time a life event happens for Shira, this show is formed.”

While Ginsburg’s thesis project mandated the incorporation of traditional cantorial music, she said she teamed up with friend and composer Jonathan Comisar to update subsequent performances with original songs. Rick Bertone, the show’s music director, said the songs serve as an effective way to address the production’s occasionally dark subject matter. However, they also welcome viewers into a cheerful celebration of life that could not be as easily accomplished without music, he added.

To maintain the authenticity of her family’s history, Ginsburg said she included music in Hebrew and Yiddish, her grandparents’ native language. One song, which she performs as the character of her bubby, illustrates a flashback about her experience with the Partisans at 16 years old, she said. Because the piece is particularly impassioned, Ginsburg said Yiddish was the only language that seemed to properly capture the gravity of the moment.

Still, Ginsburg said the musical is performed primarily in English. The show’s penultimate song – entitled “Who Am I?” – allows Ginsburg to express her initial doubt in her ability to tell her grandparents’ story, she said. However, she said by the end of the number, she gathers her courage and recognizes the significance of her work.

“It is incumbent upon all of us to step into these shoes and … take responsibility for our legacies,” Ginsburg said. “It’s terrifying, and you get over it, and you recognize the importance is more important than being scared.”

Despite “Bubby’s Kitchen” being a one-woman show, Ginsburg said it is the product of extensive efforts from a sizable, gifted group. It has been heartening to know that her teammates – even those with different backgrounds – feel equally passionate about the musical and its message, she said. Bertone, who has been working on the show for about 11 years, said he truly feels like the crew is a family.

“I don’t know if you can put a show together without a sense of community, and this team has been really special and easygoing – just a love fest at every juncture,” Bertone said. “When I’m booked with another project, and I can’t make a performance of ‘Bubby’s Kitchen,’ I’m very sad because I love being with these people so much.”

[Related: UCLA alumni bring passion and kindness to ‘Mean Girls’ musical tour ensemble]

Moreover, Ginsburg said another rewarding aspect of her time with the musical has been sharing it with different communities across the country. She loves speaking with audience members after performances and hearing about how they resonated with the piece, she added. One attendee was inspired to reconcile with their estranged brother after the show – an anecdote that Ginsburg said still stands out to her today.

Reflecting on the production’s journey to UCLA, Ginsburg said she feels honored and privileged to bring her story to the campus. “Bubby’s Kitchen” has always been a relevant journey, and its message of family connection is important to share today, West added. Ultimately, Ginsburg said she hopes viewers of Saturday’s performance will be empowered to generate change with their voices, just as she and her family have.

“I really want people to leave with a sense of awe that one woman, at 16 years old, could have survived what she survived and created so much good in the world afterwards,” Ginsburg said. “That’s the power of one person. We have got to use our voices for good.”

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Victoria Munck | Arts editor
Munck is the 2024-2025 Arts editor. She was previously an assistant Arts editor on the theater | film | television beat. Munck is a third-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
Munck is the 2024-2025 Arts editor. She was previously an assistant Arts editor on the theater | film | television beat. Munck is a third-year communication student from Granada Hills, California.
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