An original musical titled “By Wheel and By Wing” premieres Thursday at Act 3 Productions in Sandy Springs.
“The story is very fascinating, especially as it’s true,” said director and theatre cofounder Patti Mactas.
With book, lyrics and music mostly written by local high school students, the story is set in World War II and depicts the Parnes family’s escape from the Nazis.
“It occurred to me if you could make a musical out of ‘Les Miserables,’ you could make a musical about an epic Holocaust survival story,” Mactas said. “Since this was the story of seven children, I thought whom better than young people to write it?”
The theatre held staged readings of the work in progress in May 2011 and conducted focus groups afterward.
“Everyone loved that each of the children and parents had very well-delineated characters,” Mactas said. “You got to know them as well as follow the story. People also loved that there was humor.”
While those elements remained, the book and lyrics got a brush-up.
“There was the addition of two songs,” Mactas said. “We turned it into a total musical.”
Sandy Springs resident Helen Kasten, whose mother Tonia Weisz is played by Ella Owen, said her grandmother Esther Parnes kept a journal of family history.
“As I sat and watched the staged reading, I could not help but think that this is what she had intended all along, that the story be heard and seen by many,” Kasten said. “The superb writing brought the stories to life and the music added that special emotional touch that only music can.”
Surviving family members include Weisz, aunts Clara, Jeannie and Sally, and uncles Azriel and Johnny.
“We are all anticipating an exciting premiere showing,” Kasten said. “This has come so far and who knows where it goes from here?”
It came from Mactas’ chance meeting with Jeannie Parnes Wechsler, whose character Genie is played by Sofia Kemalov, her seatmate on a flight from New York to Atlanta.
“Exactly three years ago, I was on my way home from my daughter Elyssa’s graduation from NYU’s Tisch School in musical theater,” Mactas said about the actress she would eventually cast as Esther in the show. “Jeannie had an accent, and when I asked where she was from, she looked at me with her huge blue eyes, and asked, ‘Do you want to hear my story?’”
If you go
o What: “By Wheel and By Wing”
o When: Thursday, Saturday, June 29, 30, July 6 and 7 at 8 p.m., Sunday and July 1 at 3 p.m.
o Where: Act 3 Productions, 6285-R Roswell Road in Sandy Springs Plaza
o Tickets: reserved seating $28 adults, $20 students and seniors, general admission $23 adults, $15 students and seniors
o Information: (770) 741-1905 or