Return to innocence

Combining music, dance and a culturally conscious plot, the cast of the new musical sitcom 'La La Land' attempt to win the hearts of young viewers.

La la land 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
La la land 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Anticipation mounted in Tel Aviv's Tzavta theater as the audience waited impatiently for the curtain to rise on the sneak preview of La La Land, the Israeli children channel's unique new musical sitcom which began airing March 30. In the first episode, the simple plot and cast of iconic characters are revealed. An old theater is saved from destruction at the last moment by a millionaire played by well-known actor, Sassi Keshet. Although it has been granted a second chance, the theater still must find a way to make money and draw crowds or it faces imminent closure. "It's art fighting capitalism," says La La Land's creator, Yaron Erazi. Danny (Alon Friedman) plays the naïve and romantic theater manager who is in love with Keshet's daughter, Gali (Roni Hadar). But the beautiful and talented Gali sees Danny only as a friend and chooses instead to date the bad boy of the show, Momo. Played by the familiar Levi Zitner, who has been appearing on children's television since 2000 and currently hosts his own show, it is immediately clear that the imbecilic Momo isn't really in love with Gali. As the story unfolds, we meet the comic relief - the stereotypical 'clowns' played by two bickering brothers, Shlomo (Udi Gutshlak) and Artsi (Aviad Gotlieb), and the loud-mouthed female security guard (Hadar Levi) who got lost in a supermarket when she was four and forgot her name. The first time Danny breaks into song in a dream-like bubble, the audience begins to clap. But it's obvious that this is not an Israeli rendition of High School Musical, the popular musical sitcom for teenagers in the United States. "This is much more naïve and romantic than High School Musical," says Erazi. "The music is different, and the story lines are very basic and simple." In fact, Erazi says that keeping the plot simple was one way to intersperse the scenes with the Hebrew songs, and since the series of 14 episodes includes 70 original songs, there is plenty of singing. According to Erazi, the idea behind the show was to combine both slapstick humor and sappy romanticism, which La La Land does with moderate success. While Danny sings about his love for Gali and how frustrating it is that she can't see how bad Momo is for her, Keshet belts out a song or two about turning the theater into a parking lot. The show fluctuates, sometimes rather abruptly, between acting, singing and dancing as the plot unfolds through both dialogue and lyrics. In one scene, Shlomo and Artsi refuse to speak to each other because they can't agree on how the theater's advertisement should be filmed. But when Shlomo gets locked in a closet by mistake, Artsi promises his undying brotherly love and the pair become friends again. "Even though you are a little stupid and a little nudnik," they sing to each other between the closet's wooden door, "you're better than nothing." AS THE sneak preview comes to a close, two big questions remain: Will the characters manage to save the theater with their hard work and dedication? Will Danny be able to win Gali over and make her forget all about Momo? The children at the Tzavta preview were thrilled by La La Land and wanted autographs signed and pictures taken with the stars of the show. The young actors were happy to oblige. For many of them, this is a completely new experience. Roni Hadar, an acting student in Tel Aviv, has been in a few films, but this is her first television series. "It's a dream come true to do a project like this," she says. "I've always had a musical fetish so that part wasn't hard, but I never danced as a child so that was challenging." Friedman also says that the show demanded new things from him. Although he'd been acting on stages for over five years and had a few television appearances, it was the first time he had to sing. "You need a lot of confidence to do this kind of thing, but it's been a lot of fun because it's such an innocent show that brings back lost values." Hadar Levi says that her character is charming because she still believes in love. "I play the guitar and write songs, and I've been in a lot of bad things, so it's great to take part in a project like this," she says. According to Zitner, who plays the Fonz-like Momo, the show is a big risk because of its originality. "You have to really be a unique director to pull this off." He adds that while his character may be stereotypically stupid and good with "chicks," he's got a few surprises up his sleeve. Erazi describes the series as The Muppet Show meets Little Shop of Horrors. Perhaps this blend is ambitious since there are certainly no muppets and the actors lack the experience and talent of the Little Shop of Horrors cast, but there is a charming appeal in the old-school values promoted in the plot. The best advice is to see an episode and decide for yourself. La La Land airs on the Children's Channel from Sunday to Thursday at 14:30.