If you’re going to put on an Englishlanguage play in Israel, you might as well
shoot for the best. Anyway, that’s the philosophy of Yisrael Lutnick, the
founder and director of Israel Musicals, which is staging the famed Andrew Lloyd
Webber production Cats throughout the country, beginning next week.
always wanted to produce one of the big Lloyd Webber shows because they’re so
popular. Everyone loves them. It would be fun and challenging to put on,” says
Lutnick, an immigrant from New York who established Israel Musicals in 2007 as
the latest addition to the Englishlanguage theater community in
“I sent many requests to the show’s agent to license it and was
always getting rejected, but last summer I finally got a positive response. I
Based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles who strive
to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. Boasting now
standard songs like “Macavity,” “Old Deuteronomy” and “Memory,” the musical
first opened in London’s West End in 1981 and then branched out to Broadway in
1982. Both productions were huge successes, entering the record books as the
second-longest running show in Broadway history, behind Phantom of the Opera
and the fourth-longest running West End musical.
The Israeli production,
directed and choreographed by Rosa Howden, with artistic and musical direction
by Lutnick, attracted a slew of aspiring felines to its auditions, many of them,
according to Lutnick, native Israeli acting graduates of places like the Beit
Zvi School for Performing Arts and the Nissim Nativ Acting Studio.
were very surprised at how many great actors came out to audition, even though
we made it clear the roles were largely volunteer. I think the attraction of
being in a production of Cats
is very large,” says Lutnick.Musical
[Howden] feet haven’t touched the ground since the auditions. She pumped her
fist, bent her knees and went ‘Yes!’” adds Lutnick, who is joining the young
cast in the role of theater cat Gus.
Lutnick’s evolution from cantor and
rabbi to theater producer and actor makes for almost as good a plot as Cats
Growing up in Long Island, he developed a combined interest in music, theater
and religion. The first show he saw was 1776
in summer stock in Upstate New York
when he was eight.
“I was hooked, even though when they were singing
about too many flies and it being hot as hell, I was experiencing the same thing
in the barn without air conditioning where the show was being staged,” he
Leaving a promising future as a concert pianist behind, Lutnick
went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in music and cantorial studies, followed
by rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University. For many years he worked as a
full-time cantor in a Washington Heights synagogue. However, after coming to
Israel for an extended visit 19 years ago, he changed direction and ended up
During his first years in Israel, Lutnick performed music
at parties, recorded two albums of Jewish music and served as rabbi for a
Mevaseret Zion congregation. But he kept his love of theater and acting on the
back burner due to religious restrictions of performing together with women. All
that changed for him after 9/11.
“After that cataclysmic event, I began
rethinking what I was doing, and I thought it was necessary to go out and try to
lift people’s spirits, most importantly my own,” he says. “There were notices
for an audition for a show of Lloyd Webber songs called Any Dream Will Do, and I
decided that I had to adapt a more lenient opinion about performing in coed
Lutnick auditioned and received the high-profile role of
Joseph, and the theater bug was back full time. He began writing his own
musical, If I Could Rewrite the World
, which he produced by himself in 2007,
marking the launch of Israel Musicals.
Since then, he’s put on one or two
shows a year, ranging from The Music Man
and The Sound of Music
to Man of La
and his childhood favorite, 1776.
But, like with the other, more
established English theater organizations, it’s been a struggle to attract an
audience in a country made up mostly of Hebrew speakers.
challenge is to introduce Israeli audiences to traditional Western musical
theater as an art form,” says Lutnick, adding that Cats may provide the trigger.
“Even before I put any ads in the paper, people were contacting us after hearing
about the show on websites or through word of mouth, and it’s been a lot of
That’s must be because, as everyone knows, cats speak
in a universal language.Cats debuts on January 26 at the Gerard Behar
Center in Jerusalem and will be staged through February 16 in Haifa, Modi’in,
Kfar Saba and Givatayim. Details can be found on www.israel-theatre.com •