This article by Riley Atkins, was first published in the March/April 2021 issue of The Chronicle, a publication of Congregation Neveh Shalom
Shoshana Bean at age nine was precocious, determined and passionate. No one in her family could have imagined this little girl born in Olympia, WA, but transplanted to her mother’s hometown in Portland in the late 1980s, would one day grace the stages of Broadway. But there were hints. Shoshana would occasionally disappear into the bathroom, carrying a large hairbrush that served as her “microphone,” and perform in front of the mirror, singing at the top of her nascent lungs. As her uncle and aunt, Marci and I wondered if she shouldn’t play outside more!
As parents of three children then under age four, we were busy. But when Marci’s sister Felice decided to return to Portland with Sho, we invited them to join us in a Garden Home rental house while we built a new home. Our three little ones were in awe of their “big” cousin Sho, and the bonds formed that year created a devoted, sibling-like relationship that continues to this day.
The path that ultimately led Shoshana to lead roles on Broadway in Wicked and Waitress, began with her Olympia, WA paternal grandmother, Marcheta Bean, z”l, an amateur jazz singer and inspiration to Sho. Sho’s first professional role came as a nine-year-old in Sunday in the Park With George, performed at the Winningstad Theater in Portland. Felice shuttled Sho to rehearsals and performances while getting a second teaching credential in dance at PSU.
It was a treat to see Sho on stage as a little girl, but nothing prepared us for the cavernous Gershwin Theater on Broadway in 2005 when Sho took the stage to a thunderous ovation in Wicked, before she had even sung a note. The couple next to us from Alabama looked concerned when they saw tears in our eyes, but understood when we shared, “we are her aunt and uncle.”
Shoshana’s maternal grandparents, Ed and Sylvia Moskowitz, z”l, both left our family far too soon and never saw Shoshana perform, but they doted on her as their first grandchild. Ed and Sylvia brought their then two daughters, Felice and Marci, to Portland in 1955, and joined Congregation Ahavai Shalom on Portland’s Southwest 13th Street. Geri (Luxenberg) would be born in Portland the following year. Felice had her bat mitzvah there, but Marci and Geri would have their ceremonies after the merger with Congregation Neveh Zedek at our current CNS Dosch Road/Peaceful Lane home.
Ed and Sylvia’s union was a “mixed marriage”, as they claimed only partially in jest. Ed was an Ashkenazi Jew from The Bronx, recently home from service in the Aleutian Islands during World War II, and Sylvia was a first generation Sephardic girl from Seattle whose parents were both from the Island of Rhodes, Greece, and primarily spoke Ladino.
The young Moskowitz family immersed themselves in shul activities, including Men’s Club and Sisterhood. Ed served as President of the Men’s Club for many years and later chaired the Cemetery Committee. He also served as CNS Vice President. Middle daughter Marci would eventually work at CNS for 19 years in a myriad of capacities. Upon Ed’s death in 1985, the family room at Neveh Zedek Cemetery was dedicated to the couple’s memory. The Moskowitz Fund was established by the family in their honor to support worthy CNS religious projects without designated funding. The fund has procured the white High Holy Day Torah covers used in the main sanctuary and additional Megillah prayerbooks for Purim, among other worthy causes.
As a Beaverton High School student, Shoshana blossomed on stage in their outstanding performing arts program. The former little girl with the hair-brush microphone developed new skills in musical theater. She became a familiar figure at sporting events as well, singing the national anthem at BHS and Portland Trail Blazer games. Sho also performed with the Bobby Torres Ensemble as a teen, but had to step outside between sets because she was still a minor! But the professional performer she would become was on display even earlier at CNS, as some may recall Shoshana leading the Confessional (Viddui) at Yom Kippur for several years.
Sho received her degree from the University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music, and made her Broadway debut in Hairspray in 2002, as a chorus member, but was often required to perform the lead role of Tracy and others at a moment’s notice. Sho performed with the cast for two years before earning the lead role of Elphaba in Wicked which she played from 2004-06. After her initial years on Broadway, Sho created three independent solo albums that have all topped the iTunes R&B and Blues charts in the US and the UK, with the most recent, SPECTRUM, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Jazz Charts. Sho returned to Broadway in 2019 as Jenna, the lead role in Waitress.
In recent years, Sho has produced and performed at three fundraisers for the Beaverton High School performing arts department. A key feature of these events has been Sho’s efforts to showcase talented youth at Beaverton and the other district high schools. Between 75-90 kids have been given the opportunity to share the stage with Sho and perform for a large audience, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In addition, Sho continues to teach classes to young people interested in the performing arts in underserved areas of Los Angeles and wherever she travels. Sho has performed for live audiences around the world and currently makes her home in Los Angeles, with frequent visits to family in Portland and Seattle.
What would grandparents Ed and Sylvia have thought today of Shoshana, their famous first grandchild? The fact Sho continues to take pride in her CNS roots, and tirelessly supports local music education programs, would undoubtedly have made them proud.
Shoshana will perform and join Cantor Bitton and CNS youth at our largest annual fundraiser supporting ongoing CNS programs on April 11. Click here for more information. See you there!