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(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
It's rare to find a heavily promoted, highly publicized production that - when it finally hits the stage - doesn't disappoint in some way. "One," among the most hyped concert series in Israeli history, falls victim to this excess of publicity.
The multi-disciplinary show was created to highlight pop star Rita, but though the spotlight shines on the 44-year-old diva as she prances about the stage in an array of extravagant costumes, the night's intended focal point is sidelined by the production's numerous other effects. The visual artists, acrobats, dancers, costumes, graphic backdrops and lighting and special effects make the woman meant to be larger than life a secondary figure in her own show. At least in the first act.
"One" is being billed as a Las Vegas show cum Broadway spectacle. While some NIS 20 million was invested in the production (a grand figure by Israeli standards), with no real storyline and too many cliches, the show fails to match its American inspirations, and can at best be dubbed a weak imitation.
The show, which runs six nights a week through the end of the month, opens with the Doris Day song "Que Sera Sera," with a little girl (the young Rita, presumably) in bed dreaming of her future. From here, the adult Rita performs a string of hits, each with its own visual theme but none connected to any of the others.
That's not to say there aren't some clever concepts. "Atof Berachamim" (Wrapped in Mercy) for example, is performed with a pre-birth theme, with performers in water tanks representing unborn babies while airborne embryos float above them and dancers dressed as sperm try to break out of plastic enclosures. The number is skillfully produced and visually enjoyable.
From there, however, the first act goes awry. In her rendition of "Eved Shel Hazman" (Slave to Time), Rita flies over a group of cricket-like dancers, while an animated backdrop shows some rather obvious "people as cogs in a machine" imagery.
Someone ruined the pop singer's major hit, "Bo" (Come), by meshing it with Eurythmics song "Here Comes the Rain Again." That same someone erred in thinking that interpreting the lyrics literally - the song opens with a line about clearing away the fog - would be a good way to present the song visually. Watching a rendition involving fire, smoke and artificial rain, the audience is so overcome by visual cliches that the song's power is lost.
Throughout her songs, Rita is accompanied by a circus of performers. Acrobats recruited from abroad perform daring feats throughout the show, while the production's 70 dancers sweat through exciting choreography. The lighting, visual backdrops and moving parts of the custom-made stage wow the audience.
As for the endless array of extravagant costumes, they're cause for both praise and hushed suffering. While the costumes themselves are astounding, the audience is left to endure hackneyed skits by Noam Huberman (in character as Miss Laila Carry) and Yossi Toledo (as an Italian mime) during costume changes.
Fortunately, Huberman and Toledo step aside during some of these mini-intermissions to let dancer Or Kachlon entertain. For those who caught a glimpse of Kachlon on the TV dance contest Born to Dance (which he won), seeing him live is even more of a treat. If he weren't sidelined in short solo sequences, Kachlon could easily be the star of the show.
And where is Rita in all this? Well, she's there, under the spotlight, singing her songs. But unlike in productions that have kept all eyes on her, Rita gets somewhat lost in the mayhem here. Musically, her powerful voice is overrun at times by too strong a bass line and an unintended echo, with the loud band drowning out the singer's signature tenderness.
Fortunately, there is also a second act. Though it opens with a vulgar attempt at African tribal dance, the dancers, acrobats, and visual artists are quickly sent packing. Rita then sits on the steps at the front of the stage to sing directly to her fans - the moment the audience has truly been waiting for. Anyone who's been to a Rita concert knows the intimate audience connection the singer cultivates. Accompanied during this part of the show by just one acoustic guitarist, Rita and her fans at Tuesday's performance joined together to sing "Yemey Hatom" (Days of Innocence), with both the star and her admirers clearly tickled by the experience. Instead of costume changes, Rita simply discards parts of her poofy white dress for the next couple of songs. "One" turned into a regular Rita concert.
But millions of shekels weren't invested for a regular concert. And soon enough, Rita's entourage reappears, with the singer now in her final outfit for the night - comfortable cut-off jean shorts and a white shirt.
In the end, the grandiose effects and marvelous production values can't compensate for the lack of genuine feeling in "One." The show tries to incorporate too many visual and musical styles, while fluctuations between its "around the world" and "life cycle" themes strain the show's sense of cohesiveness. The phrase "too many cooks spoil the broth" aptly applies to this production.