So how does the story of an autistic teenage boy who discovers his neighbor’s dog has been killed and tries to find the culprit connect with Jews?
In more ways than you’d suspect, said Tim Levy, director of NT America, the arm of the National Theatre of Great Britain, which brought the theatrical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, from England to Broadway in 2015.
Levy’s the producer of Curious Incident, which won five Tony Awards and is in the midst of its American tour. It’s stopping in Philadelphia from Feb. 28 through March 5 at the Academy of Music.
According to Levy, who grew up in Henley, about 45 minutes outside of London, where there was only a small Jewish community, Curious Incident — which won a 2015 Tony for Best Play — is filled with themes a Jewish audience can relate to.
“It’s a story about feeling different,” said the 38-year-old Levy, best known for producing the American version of War Horse, which also won five Tony Awards. “Growing up in the U.K. Jewish, I didn’t go to a Jewish school so there was definitely a sense of something unusual.
“What I love about this show is it lets you feel what it’s like to feel different about yourself and the world around you. What Christopher [the main character] and his family deal with in Curious Incident is here’s a boy who looks and sounds like every other boy but does have differences in how he sees the world.
“Ultimately, he learns to celebrate those differences.”
For Levy, the celebration of his Jewishness has been gradual, having moved from quaint Henley with its pocketful of Jews to New York City. Instead of having to explain the customs and the peculiarities to curious classmates, he’s now surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Jews.
“Being Jewish in the U.K. is nothing like it is over here,” said Levy, who lives with his American-born husband and two dogs — one of whom, Waffle, was a recent cast member. “Particularly in big cities, the embrace of Jewish culture is so celebrated here.
“Here I have a number of friends who are Jewish. When they’re asking if I’d like to join them on the High Holidays, it feels really wonderful.
“It’s something I didn’t have in the U.K. — a perk I wasn’t expecting but really love. I don’t feel like an outsider.”
While Curious Incident has been touring since the fall, Levy said Philadelphia — whose Free Library named Haddon’s novel a 2017 One Book, One Philadelphia selection — offers something special.
“Certain cities have more of a vibrant play-going feel,” said Levy, who’s hoping to run the Rocky steps and hit some of Philly’s finest restaurants during his stopover. “Some tend to be more inclined towards musicals.
“A big city like Philadelphia can have both and celebrate both. I come in to position the show in as many markets as I can. See how it works on that stage.”
The attraction to theater started during his teenage years when he was dazzled by a Sam Mendes production of The Glass Menagerie at London’s Donmar Warehouse theater.
“Like Curious, it touched me emotionally in such a deep way,” recalled Levy. “I started writing letters to theater companies to see if they’d be kind enough to take me in at an entry level.
“I knew I didn’t want to act, but to help make shows happen. I learned all the roles backstage and realize producing was my passion. Making shows like this is a great honor.”
What NT America does is not so much Americanize shows like War Horse and Curious Incident as tailor them to the audience.
“We started originally in a 330-seat theater in the round,” explained Levy, whose next projects are a Brooklyn production of People, Places and Things, along with a Broadway revival of Six Degrees of Separation starring Allison Janney. “Now it’s more like 1,000, similar to Broadway. The biggest changes is casting American actors in the show and changing bits of certain expressions that don’t make sense.”
The characters in Curious Incident still speak with British accents and the story remains set in the United Kingdom, Levy said. But he sees it as a story with universal appeal.
“It’s the story of a boy and his parents,” he explained, “and that universal feeling of what it’s like to be child and the parents trying to do what’s best for them.”
For Levy, success has brought unexpected change.
“I’d been here a few times before with work,” he said. “I arrived with two suitcases in New York. … When I first moved here, I was told to lose the accent. I tell them, ‘Even if I say something dumb it still sounds smart.’ But being an Englishman abroad does mean I’m different from most of my colleagues and friends.
“In the play, when Christopher finds himself in the big city, his sensory overload is unbearable. But we’ve all had that experience. It just takes a while to calibrate.”
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