Theater: From Yonkers to Jerusalem

‘Hello, Dolly’ comes to Beit Hillel at Hebrew University.

April 28, 2015 17:12
4 minute read.

Theater. (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)

Beit Hillel at Hebrew University, Mount Scopus and its Theater Workshop welcome legendary matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi to its theater as the curtain rises on a spring production of the musical comedy Hello, Dolly! on June 7 to 17. The 1964 classic theater production starred Carol Channing on Broadway, and the 1969 film version starred Barbra Streisand. The play has all the elements of good entertainment: a fun story, great music, exciting choreography and much, much comedy.

Set in New York City at the end of 19th century, Hello, Dolly! tells the story of socialite matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi. She makes a living through “meddling” – matchmaking and numerous sidelines. She is employed by the cantankerous Horace Vandergelder to find him a young and beautiful wife, but it soon becomes clear that Dolly has other plans for Vandergelder.

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A talented cast of 30 in full 1890s attire will perform the play under the direction of Theater Workshop founding director Michael Berl. Miriam, Wartski co-directs, Paul Salter is the music director, and Avichai Barlinksi debuts as choreographer.

The cast includes acclaimed soprano Aviella Trapido, veterans Brian Friedland, Sara Lavin, Nachum Hacket, Lucy Jennings, Aryeh Kaufman and Elinor Kaufman, and Gaby Shine as Dolly.

What characterizes the Beit Hillel Theater Workshop and makes it special? The audition policy at Hillel is to welcome all who are willing to invest the time necessary to perform. The bonding of Israeli and Anglo students, enhanced by veteran local actors, creates a community in which younger actors receive direction and guidance from established performers.

“The fact that sales, marketing, set design and some costuming are in the hands of the cast, as well as a fair share of input into the direction and blocking of scenes, all add to the individual and group connection to the production,” says Berl. “The small, intimate ensemble nature of the cast and the sense that everyone is a contributor create a unique setting for a special type of theater experience.”

The Beit Hillel Theater Workshop is celebrating its 29th season of productions. Hillel’s first production, Fiddler on the Roof, was rehearsed with an accordion in a dormitory basement and performed with piano accompaniment in the Hillel lecture hall. “We were so proud to entertain 300 people in three performances!” Berl recalls.

With the success of the program, the Hillel lecture hall was adapted for theater, with theater seats, stage lights and a grand piano. Musical theater classics were introduced into the workshop repertoire. A dvar Torah linking the basic story line of the production with a Jewish value, dictum or Torah thought presented before each performance served as the “Jewish accent” for each production – a tradition that is still in effect today.

But there were bumps along the way. For example, the first intifada sent American students packing for home, canceling a production; and the opening of other Englishspeaking theater groups with larger budgets and significant donor bases created competition.

However, with some sophisticated upgrading, the theater concepts introduced 29 years ago are still maintained. A major renovation of the Hillel theater was completed in 2014, and it was renamed the Rachel Simon Hillel Theater.

Rachel Simon appeared on the Hillel stage as a student some 20 years ago. She passed away in June 1999.

The last half decade has brought an unexpected phenomenon to the Hillel Workshop Theater – the influx of resident Israeli students and Israel-based veteran actors into the program. For the first time since the theater’s inception, many of Hillel’s thespians appear in more than one play. And the age range of Hillel’s actors, which used to be 18 to 22, has expanded to 16 to 50. Overseas students working in concert with local Israelis have added an exciting dimension to the workshop. The program has defined and strengthened the one–year students’ experience in Israel and fostered new relationships among young adult Israelis and visiting Americans.

The Beit Hillel Theater Workshop has engaged in various theater formats, from drama and comedy to musical comedy, concert tributes, operettas and Holocaust presentations. Among their past productions are Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat; Phantom of the Opera; Guys and Dolls; Les Miserables; The Diary of Anne Frank; The Wall; Brighton Beach Memoirs; A Chorus Line; Oliver; Biloxi Blues; West Side Story; Blood Brothers; My Fair Lady; Annie; and Beauty and the Beast.

The positive work of Hillel’s theater students has come to the attention of many community leaders, including Israel’s president and Jerusalem’s mayor, who often send their best wishes before opening night.

Congratulations and best wishes have also come from personalities such as producer Cameron Mackintosh, Elton John and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. No one then envisioned the huge success of the program, the ensuing changes in its cast and crew, its place among English-language theater projects or its longevity.

No one envisioned performing before audiences of 1,200 to 1,400 viewers, with more than 1,300 thespians performing on the Hillel stage. And no one envisioned employing a professional light and sound engineer, musical ensembles from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, a set construction team, costume designer, choreographer or the percussionist of the famed Irish dance classic Riverdance! Hello, Dolly! will be great fun for the entire family.

For Information regarding ‘Hello, Dolly!’ call Revital Benisti at (02) 581-7714.

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