Congregation Har Shalom opens its doors to the sound of music

Stew Remer and Ken Lechter have been producing the shows since the first one. Photo by Benjamin Kahn

On Sunday, a community of theater companies from across the world presented Broadway classics on stage. Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac was a part of Music Theatre International’s “All Together Now!” performances.

For 16 years, Har Shalom has put on an annual musical every year that draws hundreds of people. In addition to that, the congregation also puts together Broadway cabarets — set lists of songs featured on Broadway. “They are labors of love that have become ingrained in the psyche of the synagogue,” said Stew Remer, who with fellow congregant Ken Lechter, has been producing musicals and Broadway cabarets at Har Shalom since 2006. “They have just continued to grow and grow.”

Over the course of the pandemic, however, the synagogue has enforced strict safety rules. Last year was “the first year since 2006 that we did not put on a show,” Remer said last week. Though the cabarets are not as large as the musical productions, they still drew crowds pre-pandemic. “During most cabaret shows we drew at least 200 people, but this year we currently have fewer than 100 attendees registered.”

Remer and Lechter have been friends since childhood. They went to Montgomery Blair High School together, attended the University of Maryland together and both joined the Phi Sigma Delta fraternity. They even worked at the Commerce Department at the same time. Now retired, they are active congregants and co-producers of Har Shalom’s “All Together Now!”

The first show, in 2006, “was supposed to be a one-off, but the performers loved it, the audience loved it — we really enjoyed putting the show on, so it became an annual event,” said Lechter.

Last weekend, the synagogue sought to assuage some of the anxiety congregants may have felt at a social gathering. “Attendees must be masked, present a vaccination card, and socially distance,” Lechter said, adding that the theater has been configured to accommodate varying degrees of comfort: Those more comfortable with social gatherings sat at a table with others, while those more hesitant sat at separate seats, farther away. Additionally, the theater was to be filled to only 70 percent capacity.

“We are community building,” said Remer. “This is an opportunity for us to bring people back into the theater and the synagogue.”

That was the broader purpose of “All Together Now!” During the pandemic, theaters shut their doors.

By Music Theatre International’s count, shows were to be performed in more than 40 countries and all 50 states. The show premiered at 2,500 venues, totaling more than 5,500 performances. Showrunners had the opportunity to choose from a set list of 35 Broadway songs, including “Fiddler on the Roof’s” “Matchmaker,” and “Tomorrow” from “Annie.”

More than a million attendees were expected to take part in the event, which was orchestrated to fundraise for venues while fostering an international sense of community.

Har Shalom’s production was to feature 10 performers — all veterans of the synagogue’s stage. “We have a real all-star team this year,” said Lechter.

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