Things may have been a "puzzlement" for the King of Siam and his court back in 1860, but as the LOGON - the Light Opera Group of the Negev - players move into their 27th annual production with Rogers & Hammerstein's popular musical The King and I, everyone's whistling a happy tune. Israel has changed in 27 years, and according to co-producer Paul Hare, LOGON is evolving, too. Hare - who's been involved in amateur theater for most of his 85 years - enjoys a unique perspective. This year's show is bigger than ever, he says. "We have more kids involved, more people on stage, we've added a new venue and we're expecting bigger audiences," he says. "Because The King and I is a show everybody loves, with music most people know, ticket sales are up." Technical changes will bring in larger audiences, too. "The show is in English, and a light bar offers a line-by-line translation into Hebrew. But this year, Russian speakers will also be able to follow the dialogue and lyrics. That's something we've wanted to do for a long time." One change only the actors themselves notice is the language used backstage. "In LOGON's early days, almost all the players were immigrants from English-speaking countries, Anglos who made aliya in the 1970s and 80s. But over the last several years, fewer English speakers have made aliya to the South," Hare says. "That means that the make-up of the company has been evolving, too. More and more, Hebrew has become the language of rehearsals. "It began to be noticeable last year, when the choreographers decided it was more efficient to direct the dancers in Hebrew, with translation into English as needed. This year, although our excellent director, Yaacov Amsellem, speaks English, he's more comfortable communicating in Hebrew. So he directs in Hebrew and someone is designated to translate it into English, to help those of us whose Hebrew isn't the best." The unusually large cast, many of whom are children, presents another challenge. "We have our standard, full contingent of adult actors. But because the cast of The King and I includes all of Anna's pupils, we have 23 actors on stage who are under the age of 18, including two 10-year-olds," says Hare. "At times, we have 52 people on stage, which can create utter chaos backstage." But rehearsing with so many children has been interesting, he adds. "All the kids aren't in every scene, of course, so we worked out a plan with the parents, intending that one set of parents would be present at all times, helping keep order among the kids. That hasn't always worked quite as well as we planned," he laughs. Another situation arises when anyone - child or adult - forgets to turn off their microphone when they leave the stage. "It's easy to forget," Hare says, adding that he's done it himself. "But when someone forgets, what happens is not only that they broadcast their own conversations to the whole theater, but also that of anyone standing near. We've had some fairly entertaining moments." Professionally, Hare is a psychologist specializing in group psychology. "I didn't set out to be a producer," he says. "Everyone who belongs to LOGON wants to be on stage - that's the purpose. But the fact is, in a community theater like LOGON, if no one volunteers to produce, then there is no show. So when no one stepped forward to do it this year, I said I would. Then Frieda Gilmour - who's also produced any number of shows - agreed to work as co-producer." Producing a LOGON production tends to be an all-consuming, no-glamor, high-stress job. Producers take responsibility for everything except the actual on-stage performance and playing the music. "Everything else falls to us," Hare says. "That means we're responsible for all the publicity, acquiring all the props and costumes, promoting ticket sales in seven venues and making all the transportation arrangements - not just for the actors, musicians and backstage people, but for the scenery, too. Managing the finances - making sure we're on budget - is a monumental task, all by itself. "Producing is a huge undertaking, and not one that wins many admirers," he continues. "Producers make the final decision on all sorts of conflicts, and it's hard to do that and keep everyone happy at the same time." Hare, who began his amateur theater career as a kid in Washington, DC, where his father was with the US Secret Service guarding former president Herbert Hoover, started out producing marionette shows. "I wrote the plays, I built the stage, made the marionettes and did the production," he says. "My mother was my inspiration. She was an osteopath, very unusual in her day, and she was the first woman in DC to drive an automobile. But she encouraged me by taking me to productions at the National Theater and other venues in the DC area. That's where it all started." As soon as the Hares made aliya in 1980, LOGON became a part of their life. "A fellow from South Africa, Denis Weintraub, came to the merkaz klita [absorption center] where we were staying and made a pitch to all the new immigrants. He told us about a group of people in Omer who were putting on shows, all Gilbert & Sullivan. My wife June became involved right away - she'd sung professionally for many years, playing the older daughter in Fiddler over 900 times. So she was on stage right away. But we had two young kids, so until they were old enough, I stayed at home with them." As the curtain is about to go up on The King and I, a book Hare wrote tells how it all came about. The Stage is Our World: An English-speaking Amateur Musical Theater Group in Israel offers behind-the-scenes tales from the first 25 years of LOGON productions. "At every stage of my life, I've tended to write a book about what I was doing," Hare says, explaining his official list of publications, which runs to several pages. "Old professors never retire, they just publish less and less." The King and I will be performed at the Jerusalem Theater at 8:30 p.m. on February 26. Information: 563-9963.

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