Bimah — the focal point of the synagogue where the Torah is read and the rabbi stands — means “stage.”
In December, 13-year-old Grayden Goldman took to the bimah for his bar mitzvah. In his premiere as a Jewish man, Grayden read from the Torah — Parshat Vayetze — and haftarah, and sang one of his favorite Shabbat tunes, “Sim Shalom,” by Julie Silver.
If Grayden was nervous that day, no one at Temple Isaiah in Fulton could tell. An aspiring singer/actor, he was waiting for a call back from Olney Theatre Center, where he had auditioned for its upcoming production of “Kinky Boots.”
Sure enough, on the heels of his bar mitzvah, Grayden made his professional theatrical debut this month playing young Charlie in the Cyndi Lauper/Harvey Fierstein musical about a beleaguered factory owner who has to get creative to save his family’s shoe factory.
Stage fright doesn’t seem to faze the well-spoken and clear-headed young man, with a head of brunette curls and an engaging smile.
“Not only was Grayden thoughtful about the performing aspect” of becoming a bar mitzvah,” said Rabbi Craig Axler, “he was meaningful and thoughtful in the way he led the prayers.”
Paeon to shoes
At Olney Theatre, Grayden plays Charlie the factory owner as a youngster. “I’m trying to please my father while I’m also shoving a soccer ball in his face,” he said of his character.
While young Charlie is supposed to do well in school and learn the business from his father, Mr. Price, “I wanna play soccer, too.” He sings a paeon to shoes: “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World.”
And, it’s not every day you hear a bar, bat or kabbalat mitzvah kid effusively discuss how much they loved chanting from the Torah. Asked what he liked most about his bar mitzvah service, he said, “One hundred percent, definitely my Torah portion, haftarah and the blessings before and after were my favorite part. I like the blessings before and after because I knew them before I even started learning [for the bar mitzvah] and I find them really fun because they’re short and sweet.”
Grayden, a Woodbine, Md., resident, traces his interest in singing to listening to Kelly Clarkson on the car radio. His earliest performing experience occurred as a member of Temple Isaiah’s junior choir.
“I ended up loving it and having a great time,” he said, and now he volunteers on Sunday mornings as the choir director’s assistant for the younger children. “Then I went to theater camp. That led to being invited to perform child’s roles in two Glenelg High School productions.”
A few summer stock camp sessions at Olney Theatre and he was invited to audition for “Kinky Boots.” “Now,” he beamed, “I’m a professional.”
Mom Dina Goldman noted, “This all happened at the same time: Grayden was preparing for his bar mitzvah and auditioning. It’s all very exciting.”
The Grayden Show
The bar mitzvah party was, of course, a theatrical event. The whole Goldman family, including twin sisters Emersyn and Talya, got involved in planning it, Grayden said.
“Originally it was just going to be theater and shows in general, but my mom had a great idea to make a music video with me singing and dancing.”
He chose the title song from “The Greatest Show,” the 2017 movie musical. Then one of his younger sisters chimed in with the perfect title: “The Grayden Show,” and they worked on rewriting some of the lyrics to suit the theme. That sealed the deal: “The Grayden Show” video became a centerpiece of the theater-themed bar mitzvah.
At the time, mom Dina worked at Round House Theater (she is now director of advancement at Olney, but didn’t get the job until after her son was cast), so the family was able to use the stage at Round House for a professional photo shoot. They did a second photo shoot at the Mall in Columbia at a spot that featured multiple selfie stations with what Grayden called “cool backgrounds: I got to throw balloons in a blue room!”
The Goldmans also arranged for a private recording session at Bach to Rock. “I got to record in a full recording studio,” Grayden said. “I used a microphone. I saw how they edited my voice. I saw how to add reverb and how we could make different parts of the song. They could make it like I sang this part at one time of day, another part at a different time of day. Then we could mix it together like I was singing it in one cut.”
The family shot the video together on a cell phone, said Dina Goldman, who asked a friend to edit it. “It was a group effort to put it all together,” she said. Her son added: “That was such a cool experience!”
For the Goldman family, the bar mitzvah service and party became a shared effort that reflects Grayden’s dual interests and loves: musical theater and Judaism. Rabbi Axler remarked to the congregation that he could as easily see Grayden in the rabbinate as on Broadway.
While deciding on a career path may be premature, he shared some thoughts.
“While I could never imagine myself … running a synagogue and a Hebrew school, I could imagine myself telling stories to people while singing,” something his rabbi does. “That’s what theater does as well,” Grayden said. “I can imagine myself telling religious-type stories like [ Axler]. That’s a connection that I hope I will never lose.”
He added, “With music, the best part is that it’s everywhere.” ■
Lisa Traiger is WJW arts correspondent.