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The Schmooze

13-Year-Old Bar Mitzvah Mensch Helps Struggling Theater

New York’s newest theater producer has zero experience and no deep-pocketed backers. He doesn’t even have a driver’s license.

In fact, Jesse Naranjo is barely 13. But the new bar-mitzvah is donating $2,700 of his coming-of-age loot to help a struggling theater production reach the New York stage.

According to the NY Daily News, Naranjo first saw “Liberty: The Musical” in a workshop performance “and fell in love with its message of acceptance.” The show “tells the story of America’s most famous immigrant who arrives from France in 1884 amid anti-foreigner fervor,” reports BroadwayWorld. The immigrant, of course, is the Statue of Liberty herself.

Himself the child of an immigrant Colombian father and Jewish mother — she was an ESOL teacher, he was her doorman — Naranjo told Molloy the play’s political subtext spoke to him. “I think [immigrants] go through a lot of prejudice. People are really disrespectful to them… I think they work so hard, and they go through a lot of trouble that’s not necessary.”

Most people also don’t know the story of the Statue of Liberty’s arrival in the US, “and I learned about it from this musical, not from school,” Naranjo told News columnist Joanna Molloy. “It’s fun to watch. They do it in this cool, creative way, with the Statue of Liberty as an immigrant from France who talks to Emma Lazarus.”

In the play, “with powerful political forces working against her and only a precious few on her side, Liberty ultimately wins over the people of the United States and takes her rightful place on the pedestal,” BroadwayWorld reports. “Liberty serves as a theatrical reminder not only of what this country was meant to become, but how we have, in recent years, lost sight of the ‘Golden Door.’” Producer Theresa Wozunk told the News she was “brought to tears” when she learned of Naranjo’s donation.


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