In April 2012, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart claimed that Judaism had lost the holiday marketing battle with Christianity. He off-handedly remarked that Christmas was far superior to Chanukah before comparing an Easter basket full of chocolates to a Pesach seder plate.
He must have forgotten about Purim.
The newly released Megillas Lester, a full-length animated feature starring the voices of three alumni from Akiba Hebrew Academy (which has since been renamed the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy), uses pop culture, comedy and musical numbers to tell the story of Megillat Esther — with a slight plot twist.
Lead character Lester, whose voice is narrated by Michael Bihovsky, is a young Jewish boy who travels back in time to the story of Esther. He gets sent by King Ahasuerus to bid Queen Vashti to attend the king’s banquet. However, contrary to the well-known plot, Vashti doesn’t turn down the king’s invitation, denying Esther the chance to ever become Ahasuerus’s queen and save the Jewish people from the villainous Haman, who is voiced by Adam Levinthal, Akiba class of ’07. Lester spends the rest of the movie trying to set the story straight.
“I think that a movie like this is so important to Jewish children, because it’s basically an animated Purimshpiel for kids,” said Bihovksy, who graduated from Akiba in 2005.
The 27-year-old also joked about playing the vocal role of a 12-year-old student.
“Many of my friends and family don’t really believe it’s me, and when I showed up to the premiere, people seemed kind of confused that I was in my 20s,” Bihovsky said.
Megillas Lester was written and directed by Chananya Kramer, with original lyrics by his sister, Malka Leah Josephs, and music by Shmuli Rosenberg. The movie was produced by Kolrom Animation Studios and is being sold as a DVD by ArtScroll,which publishes religious texts.
Andrew Davies, 30, who graduated from Akiba in 2002, does the voice of several characters in the movie, including a guard who plots against King Ahasuerus. Davies described him as “a scheming-but-clueless wannabe killer.”
“It was so much fun being a part of Megillas Lester, which brings the story of Purim to life in a fun, fresh, animated way,” Davies said.
The Germantown native is no stranger to working on Jewish comedy for children. He is part of a popular two-man act called The Bible Players , along with yet another Akiba graduate, Aaron Friedman, who perform Jewish comedy improv gigs all over the United States.
“Megillas Lester, like The Bible Players, tries to make some of the oldest stories fun and accessible for a young generation,” he said. “Kind of a ‘Jews’ Clues’ for all ages.”
So what is in the water at the Main Line Jewish high school that has harvested so many successful acting talents?
Bihovsky paid tribute to Dewey Oriente, the school’s drama director.
“Dewey has created a drama program which not only gives multiple opportunities to aspiring actors, but which also creates a phenomenal dramatic community within the school,” Bihovsky said. “A loving, encouraging, close-knit community unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else.”