University of Arizona first-year music student Jack Zager and his writing partner, Rhiannon Lewis, won a juried competition for short musicals in Los Angeles this fall, earning a scholarship.
“Afikoman the Musical” tells the story of a feuding family settling old scores via a furious search for the Passover Afikoman, which is traditionally hidden by the family during Seder for the children to find.
Showsearch 2019, produced by the Foundation of New American Musicals, is a showcase for high school and college-aged students, who submit 10-minute musicals online for consideration. Submissions are judged on storytelling, musicality and originality. Finalists are mentored by entertainment industry professionals and their musicals are presented in a staged reading at UCLA’s The Little Theatre.
The finished musicals were directed by University of Arizona alumnus Richard Israel.
Israel has been a member of the Los Angeles theatre community for over 20 years and was the 2009 recipient of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Career Achievement in Direction. Israel graduated from Arizona Magna Cum Laude with a BFA in Musical Theatre.
Jack bonded with Richard.
“Doing Showsearch with Richard Israel was so cool,” Jack said. ‘He is also Jewish and was excited about the musical, saying like ‘in my Passover Seder, we did it this way.’ Also, just being able to talk to him about Arizona. I talked to him about my life here and he gave me advice, along with directing, which was just a really cool experience. He’s so talented.”
GET TO KNOW JACK ZAGER
- Jack plays piano, composes music and acts.
- His grandfather had a massive disco hit in 1978, “Let’s All Chant,” by the Michael Zager Band, sold five million copies, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.
- He got bit by the acting bug in fourth grade when he was cast as “Chip” for the local high school production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
- Jack and his writing partner, Rhiannon Lewis, originally wrote “Afikoman” for an assignment from their opera teacher at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. The script is based on both of their families.
- Last year, he won “Best Actor” for playing The Chairman in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” from the National Youth Arts Awards.
- He volunteers at The Miracle Project, a theatre, film and expressive arts program for children, teens and adults with autism and all abilities. He spent a month in Northern Thailand with the program assisting young children with disabilities with musical exercises and theater games. Jack was the inaugural member of the Miracle Project Ambassador program, and founded “LACHSA Miracle” at his high school.
- At the Fred Fox School of Music, “the most interesting class I’m taking is “Human Achievement in the Arts,” taught by Dan Asia. It’s just about the history of art and beauty. And I’m writing an essay right now on how you can analyze “Carousel” and how effective the repetition of “If I Loved You” throughout the musical. I just think it’s one of the most interesting essays I’ve ever worked on.
- “Rodgers and Hammerstein … painted this love story through like a single song that they would repeat. I just thought that was so incredible and I would love to be able to do that, like create like a theme that sort of like carries over.”
- He looks up to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lin Manuel Miranda (“obviously”), Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“I really relate to the music that they write.”), and “obviously Stephen Sondheim, because he is great.”
- Once got notes from Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”) through a class called “Creating Musical Theater,” a collaborative lab at the Wallace Annenberg Center for Performing Arts. “That was cool, especially after seeing “Pippin,” to see how he applies what he says.”
- Loves music theatre, obviously. “Pasek and Paul were BFA students in musical theater, performing in Michigan, but they were also writing. And I feel like that’s what I want to do here.”