2017-06-15 / On the Town

She writes music from the heart

By Cary Ginell

NOTABLE—Sandy Shanin Lasarow is a composer living in Thousand Oaks. NOTABLE—Sandy Shanin Lasarow is a composer living in Thousand Oaks. Sandy Shanin Lasarow is a composer on a mission. While others in the music industry write for financial gain, fame or status, she has different goals in mind.

“I just want to write music that touches people and makes their lives better,” she told the Acorn in a recent interview. “That’s it. If that’s the only music I ever write, that would make me happy.”

Lasarow moved to Thousand Oaks in 1999 with her husband, Bill, a writer and publisher in the art world, and their daughter, Eliana, now a college student studying abroad.

For 15 years she worked as a speech pathologist for Conejo Valley Unified School District and composed music in her spare time. After retiring in 2015, music became her sole focus.

This month, her latest work, a 20-minute musical called “Curses,” is being performed as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. It’s being staged with two other mini-musicals and the combination has been designated by organizers as a “Pick of the Fringe” best bet.

“Curses” takes place in 1900 in a Russian shtetl (a town or village with a large Jewish population). A woman named Gittel returns to the town to marry a lazy, bigoted wagon driver.

“She has a habit of cursing, and in the show her curses come true with very surprising results,” Lasarow said. “There are some funny Yiddish curses in the show that are translated into English.”

Lasarow’s collaborator is 86-year-old television writer Harriet Belkin, who wrote the book and the lyrics. For years, Belkin and her late husband, Norman, penned scripts for such classic sitcoms as “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

“Her script . . . made me laugh and I said to myself, ‘I could write music for this in my sleep,’ so I eventually wrote a complete score for vocals, piano and cello,” Lasarow said.

Trained as a singer, Lasarow took piano lessons from her grandmother but is basically a self-taught musician. In addition to “Curses,” she has co-written four full-length musicals, all with socially conscious themes.

“Ohio,” based on the 1970 Kent State shootings, had its premiere in a workshop production at Cal Lutheran University in 2008. “Women in Love,” an adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s novel, is set in 1920 and is about two sisters who make a pact never to marry.

“Shahrazad” is based on the Arabic legend “1001 Nights” and has had two Los Angeles readings. “The Spark: Hannah Senesh” concerns a 23-year-old Jewish Hungarian during World War II who joins the resistance only to be captured and interrogated by the Nazis.

“I’ve been writing music since I was 16,” Lasarow said, “but I’ve been doing musicals for the past 18 years. When I write a musical, I first read the book. Then I sit with the lyricist and we locate where the good places for a song are. Where is the drama so heightened that you need a song?”

Lasarow is also involved with the Songs of Love Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in New York that is dedicated to providing personalized, uplifting songs for children and teens currently facing tough medical, physical or emotional challenges.

“I am more excited about this than anything else I’m doing,” she said.

Together with “Thanksgiving in Ithaca” and “The Wedding Night,” “Curses” will be performed during the Hollywood Fringe Festival June 10 to 23 at Sacred Fools Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

Visit www.hollywoodfringe.org for tickets. Lasarow’s website is sandyshanin.com.

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