‘School of Rock’ gets a Hebrew twist

Popular film and stage show features Tal Friedman and a couple dozen talented youngsters.

August 20, 2019 13:09
4 minute read.
‘School of Rock’ gets a Hebrew twist

TAL FRIEDMAN and some of his young costars in ‘School of Rock.’. (photo credit: SHANNA FULD)

We’ll finally be able to find out how to say “stick it to the man” in Hebrew.  A Hebrew version of the hit Broadway and West End musical School of Rock (Rock B’bait Hasefer) is coming to Israel this fall for the first time, starring veteran comedian/actor Tal Friedman. He’ll be joined by 24 young actors, who beat out 230 other would-be students to join the musical classroom.

Everyone knows School of Rock, the hit 2003 film directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black, as Dewey Finn, a 30-year-old rocker who gets kicked out of his own band. Feeling badly about himself, the riot-act guitarist picks up work as a substitute teacher. Instead of dedicating himself to teaching his students the basics, Finn turns his class into a bonafide rock band and works with them behind the back of the school principal.

The stage version of the film, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater, debuted in 2015 and has proven to be just as popular as the film.

Getting his chance to be the cool teacher, Friedman told The Jerusalem Post that he always had trouble in school. He spoke about his focus problems and being called into the principal’s office repeatedly.

In his role in the show, which had a preview for family, friends and media last week at the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv, Tal said he’s finding it fun to play the role of a man who is coming into his own – all while having a group of cute kids by his side.

“For me, playing the guitar was the first time I felt I was in,” Friedman said. “And the play is speaking about it because this so-called teacher is a loser. But he’s sort of a coach for the kids and he understands that rock is his way out of being a loser. It’s about self-confidence.”

Friedman had to quickly get up to speed when he joined the cast of kids two months into rehearsals, due to a prior commitment.

While Friedman said he thinks the kids might be a bit afraid of him, he believes his professionalism and laid-back personality will be good exposure for the rising stars who spend hours a day in rehearsal.

“I think that they’re afraid to make mistakes because this is very delicate work,” he explained, “You have to be sharp.”

Actors portraying the students in the show, like 13-year-old Liya Ellis, spend the whole day thinking about the performance. Even off-stage, she bounced around harmonizing with her colleagues.

Ellis is originally from Chicago and said she identifies with her character, Emily, who spends the first half of the show being shy until she “opens up her mouth and shows the world what she has,” as Ellis described. Her favorite part of being involved in the performance is getting to be an actress.

“When I came to Israel, I didn’t talk to anybody,” Ellis said. “But after, I started talking and I started being braver.”

For Tsuf More, who is patiently awaiting his 13th birthday, being in the musical was about getting to play the piano as Tommy Lawrence. He’s been moving his fingers along the white and black keys since the age of five. He also noted that since he got the role, he has 28 new followers on his Instagram page.

“I learned a lot of new phrases and [musical] things I didn’t know before,” More said. “I have the tools to do what I love and I am really happy I am in the show. We are going to play all over the country, so this is going to be a lot of fun.”

Musical numbers in the performance have been translated into Hebrew by Daniel Efrat, a specialist in the field. There’s just one song in the musical that remains from the original. It’s called “School of Rock – Teacher’s Pet,” and is performed toward the close of the show. While Efrat told The Jerusalem Post he’s never met Weber in person, he has sought direct approval from him for every song translation he’s composed and has never been turned down even once.

Songs like “Stick it to the Man” and “Yalla Balagan” are two originals that stand out. The children performed both of these pieces with undeniable heart and energy. Efrat said translating these two presented the largest challenge, since “Stick it to the Man” is not an expression in Hebrew and “Yalla Balagan” is a very regional phrase.

“I remembered the times of the social protests and the tent city on Rothschild Avenue, I listened to the music and came up with ‘Yalla Balagan’ – the most local phrase there is, even though it consists of two slang words, none of which is actually Hebrew,” Efrat said.

Following last week’s sneak peak, the young actors couldn’t stop singing the songs and talking about the show. They even took a poll – asking audience members which number they liked the best. The show opens at the Habimah Theater on October 15 for Sukkot and will continue to make its rounds throughout the country through Hanukkah.

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