Hanukka may still be a month away, but planning for the holiday festival circuit is already well underway. One of the holiday's largest events, Festigal, will return for its 26th year in concerts around the country. Designed for audiences of children and their parents, Festigal's headlining performers this year include model Miri Bohadana and television actors Eliana Bekier and Ran Danker.
"Festigal is all about imagination. It's a big production with singers, dancers and acrobats," says Hanoch Rosenn, the show's director.
The theme of Festigal 2006 is "Heroes of a Lost Kingdom," and most of the show's sketches have been influenced by adventure and fantasy movies including the Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings. The show's skits will pit good against evil and dark against light, Rosenn said.
Festigal budgets have grown over the years to help distinguish the production from other Hanukka events. Some NIS 18 million has been invested in this year's concert series.
"Festigal is not just about the star line-up, but also about elaborate costumes and sets," Rosenn said. "There's dancing, acrobatics and other types of performances all in one show. People know they're coming for two hours of great enjoyment."
Now in his seventh year with Festigal, Rosenn says he continues to be excited for its annual return. "Every year I hope to make Festigal spectacular and funky. I hope to attract audiences year after year," he said.
Founded in 1981 as a song contest, Festigal has grown to include two parts. In the show's first act, its stars compete in Festigal's traditional song contest, whose results are judged by children in the audience. Each year's songs are connected to Festigal's overall theme.
The second act of the show includes additional songs, as well as dance performances and other entertainment. The show's second act sees its stars joined on stage by a group of child performers selected prior to the event, with a new group of children chosen to participate each year.
With past headliners including adult singers Gali Atari and Ofra Haza, Festigal this year will feature a roster including Ha'Alufa actors Michael Lewis and Adi Himmelblau. The cast's soap opera pedigree reflects the sort of entertainers most familiar to Israeli children, Rosenn said.
"Children today are different than they were 20 years ago. Today, children's role models are from telenovelas, TV song contests and [Israel's] Children's Channel," he said.
Do Festigal stars' background in modeling and acting rather than singing present a challenge? "While Festigal started out as a song contest, it has become a bigger extravaganza," Rosenn said. "As long as the stars can act or sing or dance, they're good enough for us."
Lewis, who's making his Festigal debut, says he's excited to be on board. "I feel it's a gift that I'm taking part," he said. "It's my chance to show audiences that I can portray roles besides the ones on Ha'Alufa and Rosh Gadol."
In addition to a knight portrayed by Lewis, the show will also feature storylines involving dragons, erupting volcanoes, water fountains and magical horses.
"It's going to be spectacular," Rosenn said. "People will enjoy this."
The Festigal troupe will perform in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Ashkelon, with the opening show set to take place December 1 at Haifa's municipal sports center.