A packed audience at the Orthodox Union's Israel Center in Jerusalem experienced a taste of Broadway on a Saturday night two weeks ago, as professional actor Roger Mehl sang numbers from hit musicals in the first of two performances of his one-man autobiographical show entitled The Roll' of a Lifetime. The second is scheduled tomorrow night at 8:30 at the same venue.
The audience was given an opportunity to watch an expert at work as Mehl (a graduate of the prestigious London Studio Center with an impressive resume - including title roles in Hair and The Wiz) - shared the story of his spiritual journey to Orthodox Judaism, incorporating selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber's finest, along with Robbie Williams hits, modern dance numbers, tap dance and more.
The show's frame story is imaginative, with Mehl getting ready to audition for "his toughest role yet," the story of his life - to be performed before God.
Mehl was born in Toronto, Canada, where he caught the acting bug as a child. Beginning formal training at 16, he won his first professional role in a German production of Starlight Express a few years later. He then moved to London, where he appeared in several theatrical productions.
It was at a rehearsal in London that Mehl fell and broke his leg, leaving him bedridden for six months and marking the beginning of a period of searching for meaning in his life. He eventually sought the advice of the rabbi at his local synagogue - the first step in a journey which led him to turn his back on international theater in favor of a life of strict observance.
While the Israel Center venue, with its makeshift stage and lack of decent props, may not have been the kind Mehl was used to, his energy, humor and impressive acting succeeded in absorbing the audience as they empathized with his challenges and celebrated his triumphs together with him. The shortcomings of the hall was forgotten by the close of the show, which earned a standing ovation.
For Mehl, the show provides a rare opportunity for nostalgia while enabling him to get his message across.
"Although it's still sometimes hard for me to accept the reality of the decision I've made, I know that ultimately I've chosen something more meaningful and real."
Married and the father of a baby girl, Mehl is now committed to creating greater opportunities for religious actors. He currently runs R. M. studios - a professional theater school in Jerusalem which he founded to enable religious actors to receive training without compromising their beliefs. Although only in its first year, Mehl has high hopes for the school, which employs guest teachers from Broadway and the West End.
"I see the school as a positive step toward generating professional work for religious actors," he explains.
Saturday, February 4, 8:30 p.m., Israel Center, 22 Keren Ha Yesod St, Jerusalem (02) 567-0619