The Final Veil

This dancer bares everything to tell the story of a Holocaust heroine.

By Andrew Andrews

Lauren Barette, Lauren Pagano, Katie Lipow, Cassandra Rosebeetle, Abagael Cheng, Katherine Lerner Lee, Hallie Chametzky and Heather Michelle in The Final Veil at The Cell Theatre. Original photos by Frank Padrone.

Jewish ballerina Franceska Manheimer-Rosenberg, better known by her stage name, Franceska Mann, performed at the Melody Palace in Warsaw, Poland, prior to World War II.

After being imprisoned by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, Mann took a train purportedly to Dresden, expecting to escape to Switzerland.

The train, however, was actually destined for the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

When the new arrivals were instructed to undress for “disinfection,” Mann used her dancing skills to perform a seductive striptease for her captors, catching the guards off guard. She then reportedly used the high heel of her shoe to stab one SS officer in the face, take his gun, and shoot two other officers.

The event supposedly sparked a brief uprising among her fellow prisoners before all of them—Mann included—were killed.

Drawing upon music from Polish and Yiddish folk songs to German cabaret and underground jazz, The Final Veil combines dance with a touch of opera and a hint of theatre to bring Mann’s legendary story to life.

Music Director Micah Gleason (center) with creators Rosebeetle and JL Marlor.

Despite creator Cassandra Rosebeetle’s burlesque background and willingness to go “the full monty” for this production, there’s nothing low brow at all about the show!

Although accurately billed as “a unique blend of theater, opera and dance,” I’d say that The Final Veil is first and foremost a dance recital, unusual in that it is accompanied by a live quartet (off-stage) and four singers who are incorporated into the choreography.

While I won’t claim to be an expert at interpretive dance, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the arrangement compared to other performances I’ve attended, finding it generally too subdued to adequately convey the despair of a group of women fearing the worst.

That said, the execution of everything—dance, vocals and music—was impeccable, even at the preview that I saw. And of course, Rosebeetle’s extensive burlesque experience results in a culminating striptease that is as masterful as it is alluring.

Views of the dance floor were regularly obstructed by the heads in front of me; the production would benefit from a raised stage as was used during the venue’s (coincidentally-named) Evolution of Mann a few years ago. And I feel compelled to mention that the smell of marijuana permeating the space was more than a little distracting—I can’t imagine that condemned Jews were smoking a lot of pot in the ghettos and concentration camps.

Nancy Manocherian’s the cell theatre deserves plenty of accolades for bringing this and other incubating projects to fruition, especially during the height of the pandemic, and the $45 price tag isn’t unreasonable, considering the size of the cast and crew. But while this creation is certainly innovative in its combination of dance, opera and theatre, and the rendition is flawless, the composition itself lacks a certain oompf that would make it outstanding.

3

Andrew Andrews attended The Final Veil at The Cell Theatre in Manhattan on Thursday, July 14, 2022 @ 8:00pm to write this review.