Concert Review: Kazablan

It could be wonderful, yet here is a Kazablan that’s all sparkle, glamour and technical excellence with nothing behind its façade, a hollow counterfeit.

December 17, 2012 20:52
2 minute read.

Kazablan Concert. (photo credit: Gerhard Alon)

There’s lots of atmospheric lighting by Amir Brener, a brilliant and mobile scaffolding set by Roni Toren, its wrought iron railings, and tall windows recalling the then abandoned (today very pricey) Arab homes of Jaffa, Ofra Confino’s superb period costumes, imaginative movement by Oz Morag, a feisty live orchestra, a personable leading man in Amos Tamam, an energetic, rehearsed-to-a-fare-thee-well cast, an iconic theater piece and an audience steeped in nostalgia.

It could be wonderful, yet here is a Kazablan that’s all sparkle, glamour and technical excellence with nothing behind its façade, a hollow counterfeit.

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This production is such a West Side Story clone, on which the original 1966 musical version of Kazablan was loosely based, that you half expect to see Kaza’s gang break out with “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Like West Side Story, Kazablan, which first appeared as a stage play, is a Romeo and Juliet story, but the protagonists are not “alike in dignity.”

The huge North African immigrations of the 1950s were Sephardi Jews and Kazablan, while promising a rosier social future, acknowledged their perception of themselves as underdogs, discriminated against by the mostly Ashkenazi population, and even by other immigrants.

Kaza is Moroccan immigrant Kazablan (Amos Tamam), nicknamed for his native Casablanca. Having served with distinction in the paratroopers, Kaza has since become a minor hood, terrorizing the run-down Jaffa neighborhood where he lives. His life begins to change when not only is he framed for a robbery, but he also falls hard for Rachel Feldman (Tamar Shem Or), an Ashkenazi girl – much to her father’s (Shlomo Vishinsky) horror.

But the municipality’s decision to tear down the neighborhood and move the inhabitants to a development town, as well as a meeting with his former commander, gradually inspire Kaza to change from brat to grown-up, thereby earning his neighbors’ respect and Rachel’s love.

Poor Amos Tamam. Director Tzarfati seems to have imposed a Kaza on him that the actor, struggle as he might, cannot assimilate. This Kaza has nothing Israeli to him, he’s a West Side punk, all strut and spikes, with so little hint of a real person underneath that when one emerges, he seems equally fake.

Character-by-the-numbers also seems to affect most of the other players who turn out Sephardi/Ashkenazi stereotypes. The only ones who seem to be having any fun are Itzik Cohen as narrator Moshiko, Vishinsky as Feldman and Ohad Shahar as lecherous shoemaker Yanush Lukash.

And all this is a pity because, although its approach is light-hearted, Kazablan is as relevant for our time as it was when the Cameri Theater premiered the play in 1954.

Only the discriminees have changed.

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