Lauren Lebowitz was given a choice at the age of 13: tennis lessons or voice lessons. She chose the latter and has gone on to a successful career on the stage.
In her latest role, she plays Rosa, a secretary to the title character in Wallenberg: A New Musical Drama, being performed at the White Plains Performing Arts Center through Nov. 21.
The role is particularly meaningful for the Livingston native, whose maternal grandparents, Renya and Mike Morgan, were Shoa survivors. Her grandmother’s best friend was a Righteous Gentile whose family, like the famed Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, saved many Jews during the war, Lebowitz said.
Lebowitz researches the characters she portrays as a matter of course.
“This is very different,” she told NJ Jewish News. “I’ve been reading about the Holocaust for years and researched [my family] and made all these interesting connections and found out where the family members died. I’ve really been in touch with that my whole life.”
Lebowitz still has a project she wrote about her grandmother for a middle school assignment. “It’s in a sixth-grader’s writing, but I know exactly where she was and it’s such a gift because as I got older and I wanted to know more, my grandmother developed dementia and she didn’t really remember everything, so I’m lucky to have that report.” Renya Morgan passed away in 2008.
“My mom is a second generation survivor; she didn’t want to hear about the Holocaust. But me, since I was a little kid, I was always asking my grandparents. I’ve taken on responsibility as the family historian, so I know who all the people are in the pictures, and I’m sort of the one who carries the passion for the family connection.”
(Lebowitz’s parents, Sylvia and Alan, are members of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.)
“My grandmother would tell me everything, and my grandfather doesn’t like to talk about it; he gives me one-word answers.
“Because of my connection to my grandparents, if I see that they’re doing a show about the Holocaust, I will do whatever I can to get in front of the creative team to audition because I think I have such a great knowledge of the time period and a deep connection to it. I feel like I’m sort of living in my grandmother’s shoes,” she said.
Lebowitz has also performed in To Paint the Earth, which chronicled daily life in the Warsaw Ghetto.
“I seem to be cast in a lot of these Jewish shows,” she said. “With a name like Lebowitz, it’s a pretty easy fit.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. there will be a performance of Wallenberg commemorating Kristallnacht at which members of the cast and the play’s creative team will participate in a “talkback” after the show to answer questions from the audience.