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Interview: The Team Behind 'Hereville' Shares the Inspirations Behind Their JFest Production

by Cassiopeia Guthrie, June 1, 2023

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival JFest has returned, featuring Jewish artist works across a range of venues and running through July 16. The variety of performances available this year include a reunion concert of award-winning musical Witnesses (read the review), Women of Valor, a reggae concert by Matisyahu, and a variety of theatrical productions, including Hereville at The Old Globe and New Village Arts.

The actresses of Hereville smile for the camera.
Cast of Hereville. Photo courtesy Jfest.

Hereville, a family-friendly musical with book by Robby Sandler and Jess Kaufman, music by Lizzie Hagstedt, and lyrics by Robby Sandler, is based on the graphic novels by Barry Deutsch starring a time-traveling, monster-fighting, orthodox Jewish girl and co-produced by Kids On Stage Productions.

I was excited to have the chance to interview lyricist and librettist Sandler as well as one of the 7 year old stars, Maya Gimbel, who plays Layele.

Sandler, reflecting on their work creating this production, shared that the relationship with the author has been very special to them. "The biggest triumph in creating Hereville has been in our relationship with Barry Deutsch, the author of the amazing Hereville graphic novels," Sandler said.

"He loves musicals, and was very generous in allowing us to write a musical that truly adapted Hereville to the stage, removing certain characters and focusing on a story we could tell through song. One of my most treasured possessions is my autographed copy of the third Hereville book, in which Barry drew one of his characters singing lyrics I wrote. Whatever happens next with Hereville, knowing that he trusted me with his characters and loved what we were doing is one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever received."

They added that they were originally drawn to the source material due to its content. "Not only (is it) a celebration of the beauty of Judaism," they said, "but a love story between a step-parent and a stepchild. As a stepchild myself, this musical reflects the incredible rewards we found in learning to love each other as well as the challenges of creating that relationship."

The cast of Hereville performs at microphones.
Cast of Hereville. Photo courtesy Jfest.

Young Gimbel, who played Layele in the February reading of the production, was also excited for the chance to reprise her role.

"Layele is like me because we are both 7 years old, both little sisters, and both love snacks," she said. "We both love helping our family and celebrating Shabbat and the Jewish holidays together."

In particular, she notes that she enjoys this musical because it shows audiences Jewish traditions and family dynamics, and noted, "I haven't been in many shows, so it's special that my first big show is a Jewish one."

Sandler agrees, sharing: "When folks leave Hereville, I hope it inspires them to talk about who they love like family, and how people they love became part of their families. Hereville is, to me, a celebration of family and the way Judaism and other cultures pass along what matters through song, ritual and food."

Hereville plays at The Old Globe on June 11th at 7pm and at New Village Arts on July 9th at 2pm. More information is available on the JFest website.


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