AJA follows alum’s vision for school musical

By Suzi Brozman

sbrozman@atljewishtimes.com

Some years ago David Stern, living in Sandy Springs, graduated from the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now Atlanta Jewish Academy) and went on to Riverwood High School and the University of Pennsylvania.

After studying computer science and communications, he graduated and realized he wanted to go into musical theater. So he moved to New York. But he didn’t have a job.

So he called Scott Orlin, who had been his brother’s Aleph Zadek Aleph adviser and was working in New York. Orlin introduced Stern to two men, a writer and his partner, who were working on an off-Broadway show. He called one of the men, Richard, every day at 8 a.m., but to no avail.

Finally, one day the man needed something done, and Stern accomplished it for him. He told Stern, “I can use a guy like you,” and continued to use him for years. His wife is the daughter of longtime Marcus Jewish Community Center theater person Beverly Shmerling, another Atlanta connection.

Stern began working with Stephen Schwartze. They became good collaborators, working together on a number of projects, including a movie called “Geppetto.” They adapted it for a stage musical to tour, then as a school musical.

One day Stern’s brother Mark Stern, the president of the Epstein School, was talking to the parent of an AJA student. When he heard the school was producing “Geppetto,” he said: “My brother wrote it!”

AJA reached out to David Stern and asked him to do a talkback session after a performance.

So he is. He said it’s a way to help kids pursue their dreams. “I want to talk to them about it — can you find a path? Theater is a hard path. You need connections. Mine was in Atlanta. The real thing the kids need is a real-life barometer.”

Why “Geppetto”? Stern wanted to tell Pinocchio’s story from the father’s viewpoint. “I was working on the movie when my father passed away. I’d always looked at the story as a son, but then started thinking about it from the father’s side.”

Geppetto wishes for a son and has his wish granted but isn’t prepared to be a father, Stern said. “He immediately starts telling him to do stuff with no preparation. Yesterday he was a puppet; now he’s flesh and blood. The dad didn’t fulfill his obligations as a parent.”

So Pinocchio goes off on his own adventures, meets people and ends up in the belly of a whale, where he meets Geppetto again.

“How did Geppetto end up in the whale? They both learned their lessons. Pinocchio learned respect, while Geppetto learned to be a real father” and not just Pinocchio’s creator, Stern said.

“He had to understand the child is another human, and it’s his job to support him but not stand in his way. All the worldly possessions he worried about Pinocchio breaking don’t matter. The only thing that matters is having a son.”

The result of all that thinking is “My Son Pinocchio Jr.” It’s the Disney classic retold from Geppetto’s viewpoint and infused with Stern’s insights.


What: “My Son Pinocchio Jr.”

Where: AJA, 5200 Northland Drive, Sandy Springs

When: Sunday, Feb. 22, and Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 4 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m.
Tickets: Students under 14, $20; adults, $12; www.showtix4u.com