‘Flashdance the Musical’ comes of age in Tel Aviv

The project is the baby of 33-year-old Maor Maimon, a Tel Aviv-based producer whose love for musical theater led him to create a performing space for it in a city that needed one.

By SHANNA FULD
June 3, 2019 13:49

'Flashdance the Musical' in Tel Aviv (Shanna Fuld)

'Flashdance the Musical' in Tel Aviv (Shanna Fuld)

 
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You won’t have to rifle through old records to get a taste of the 80s. Flashdance the Musical, the stage adaption of the iconic 1983 film, is the opening act for the new Tel Aviv Theater, which is actually an old IDF soldier house that is now undergoing a NIS 1 million redo to become the city’s next Broadway-style theater.

The project is the baby of 33-year-old Maor Maimon, a Tel Aviv-based producer whose love for musical theater led him to create a performing space for it in a city that professionals say desperately needed one.

Last Tuesday night, actors from the cast got together in Jaffa’s Theater Club, where the crew presented six musical numbers as a taster for friends, family and the press. The set incorporated the Theater Club’s bar, which serves customers in the center of the room and turned actors into bartenders.

The film’s plot revolves around Alex Owens, a risqué dancer with big dreams of being a professional ballerina. Much of the film is set at Harry’s club, so actors used the Theater Club’s setup to their advantage, transforming the space between the center bar and the main stage into a catwalk.

The cast for the musical, which was adapted from the film in London, is filled with Israeli celebrities. This includes longtime triple threat Riki Gal, Fauda’s Tzachi Halevy, Adi Cohen and Sapir Yitzhak, who is getting her big break as the star – Alex.

“It’s always been my dream, from when I was young, to dance and sing and act all at the same stage, and I think I don’t realize that I am really doing this on stage. And this is a big role for me. I think I need a couple of days after this presentation for it to really hit me,” Yitzhak said.

The starlet has been dancing since age six and says she connects to her character because Alex is a loyal friend and sticks to her principles. In the film, Riki Gal’s character, Hanna, acts as Alex’s mentor and encourages her to pursue a professional degree in dance. In a way, the 28-year-old says Gal is like a mentor in real life, giving her feedback on set.

“I connect with my character wonderfully. I can laugh at myself with this part because it speaks about this old lady, Hanna, who says she doesn’t care about her age because she is still expecting a wonderful new role for her life. That’s one side of it. The other is that I’m singing and I am kind of encouraging Alex to fulfil her dreams. This is what I do with my students,” Gal said.

The fan favorite also commented on the fact that the play is directed by a young man named Omer Zmiri. Gal says he’s talented and lending to the rise in the professional theater scene in Israel.

“This young director and these young dancers and singers are 100% better than when I started doing musicals. The level of talent and education is so much higher,” Gal said.

TRANSLATOR AND composer Daniel Efrat would agree – because he’s part of the movement. The 36-year-old started translating famous productions from English into Hebrew at age 18, when he wanted to host the Rocky Horror Picture Show for his final project. There was no translation for the cult classic in Hebrew, so he began doing the work on his own. Eighteen years later – and that project has become his career.

“I look back at that work and it looks so naive and premature. Eleven years later they did the show in Yoram Lowenstein’s Performing Arts Studio, and I redid it, so it was better,” Efrat explained.

The composer says there’s more that goes into translating a musical than just language conversion.

“There’s rhyming; there’s music, emphasis, the number of syllables that has to match the music; it has to be singable. It has to be tasty,” Efrat said, explaining that the pieces should be good enough songs to stand alone as their own pieces of work, even if that means twisting the meaning of the lyrics.

The theater-lover says the opening of the new space is not only historic, but a step forward for the genre of musical theater in Israel. According to him, the last few years have been strong in terms of talent development. Whereas musicals 15 years ago would be composed of a lip-syncing chorus, a cast of actors who would dance poorly and a couple of strong vocalists to fill in the gaps, today actors are being trained in all three departments.

“The professionalism is right there, and we have amazing talent. It makes me proud because there was no real musical theater in Israel when I was growing up. I was dreaming about it,” Efrat explained. He remembers the country’s artists putting all their efforts into one “jukebox” musical per year.

“Then here comes Maor and does it. It’s the first musical to open in a repertory musical theater in 40 years, since Kazablan."

Somehow, the management, the CEOs, the artistic directors – they all had a fear of this genre. It was considered lower in artistic quality. But I think it’s a genre that uses everything that staged arts has to offer. It’s theater that uses all means possible to communicate feelings. And they are not always silly and happy. In Flashdance, some of these girls are strippers or flash dancers and its flirting with this dark side of selling yourself for money,” Efrat said.

Three of the songs in the musical will be sung in English – including the top hits of the film “Maniac,” “What a feeling” and “I Love Rock N Roll,” which was led by Mei Feingold and stood out as one of the best musical numbers out of the sneak-peak night.

The longtime actor/singer says she often takes strong female roles, and the part of Tess in Flashdance is no exception. The director needed a rocker and they got one. Feingold’s grunge and hard-core vibes shot across the stage as she nailed the choreography. The powerhouse said this role came easy to her because she identifies so closely with her character. However, there is one part of the job that felt entirely new.

“It’s the first time I ever performed in front of an audience with my a** out. It’s the first time I reveal so much body on stage and it feels amazing. I feel so connected to my body and my soul. I was walking around all day on set in my underwear and I didn’t even notice. I just felt so free,” Feingold said.

And while this role provided something fresh for Feingold, global superstar Halevy felt more that he was returning to his roots. Halevy, who plays the role of Nick Hurley (Alex’s boss and love interest) danced and sang live on stage with musical group Mayumana and took part in four musicals before getting started in cinema.

“Being on stage is something that is very close to the audience and very personal. The feedback when you’re on stage is direct. When you do cinema, you don’t know how the audience is feeling, what their idea is. And you normally just get that at screenings of works that you did. It’s challenging in a different way,” Halevy said.

The professional tells The Jerusalem Post that the show is still a work in progress, and he plans on asking to be included in more choreographed routines.

Last but not least is the woman with the crazy 80s teased hair – and it’s all natural. Cohen plays the role of Kiki, the most senior dancer at Harry’s private club.

“I fell in love with my number – it’s called “Manhunt.” The men and the women switch roles in it, the women get to be the hunters in this one – so it’s so much fun,” Cohen said.

That cheery sentiment resounded across the board, but rehearsals have been in motion for only a couple of months yet. The first showing is set to open on July 4, with tickets ranging between NIS 199 and NIS 249.

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