Cashing in on the ‘King’

For folksinger Sandy Cash, ‘to be an actress on the Hebrew stage’ is a dream come true, as she portrays Anna in the Israel Musicals and Jest production of ‘The King and I.’

Sandy Cash 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
Sandy Cash 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
For many Anglo-Israelis, Sandy Cash’s leading role as Anna in the current Israel Musicals and Jest production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein music The King and I may come as something of a surprise. The 50-year-old US-born Beit Shemesh resident is a regular feature of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival, and various folk venues up and down the country, as a guitar-playing, folkie singer-songwriter.
In fact, however, operatic and/or musical endeavor has been part of the Cash makeup for a long time.
“I did a lot of theater at college in my growing-up years,” she observes. “I did Gilbert & Sullivan and musicals and plays, including Shakespeare. This was a big part of my life. I actually chose my college – Yale – because of the theater program there.”
When she wasn’t in a lecture auditorium or a classroom Cash would be getting on with some theatrical pursuit or other.
“I really majored in extra-curricular theatrical activities,” she says with a chuckle. “I spent an enormous amount of time in rehearsals. I did a show almost every semester, and I did professional children’s theater after I graduated.”
Ivy Leaguer or no, Cash only got serious about her thespian evolution after becoming an new immigrant to Israel.
“I only became a professional in theater when I came to Israel, in 1987. I spent a year in drama school in Tel Aviv University. When I made aliya I had what I saw in retrospect as this bizarre idea that I wanted to be an actress on the Hebrew stage. It was a combination of my love of theater and really wanting to be a part of Israel.”
The new immigrant certainly made headway on street level.
“Drama school was a wonderful ulpan,” notes Cash. “My Hebrew was pretty good even before I came here. I had Sunday school Hebrew and, when I became more Zionistically inclined, I read Israeli papers and had Israeli friends to converse with. I had the basis of good Hebrew.”
Even so, there was a yawning gap to be spanned. “There is a big difference between conversational Hebrew and being able to do Shakespeare in Hebrew.”
Cash’s initial theatrical experience in her new country was followed by some serious musical activity, with the country’s bastion of operatic entertainment.
“I spent the next three years singing in the chorus of the Israeli Opera, although that was in French and Italian.”
By now, a clear picture was emerging of a woman determined to achieve her artistic goals, in her own way and time. She says she followed her own classical music training path, which went on top of some solid physiology.
“I did voice lessons sporadically over the years,” she declares, “and I think I have been blessed with a very healthy voice.”
Like anyone who gets on a stage to perform, Cash is very much aware of the aesthetics involved and says she has always been drawn to dressing up for her various roles, including her current part.
“The King and I is very much associated with these massive hoop skirts and the fancy dresses that I adore wearing. The last time I wore a hoop skirt was when I was in La Traviata with the Israeli Opera, when I wore solid black 19th century courtesan hoop skirts. And I had the amazing experience of working with [stellar conductor] Zubin Mehta and these amazing soloists, like Gabi Saddeh. I learned so much from watching these people. It was so exciting.”
The folkie side to Cash’s musical adventure, naturally, enough, was self-generated. “That happened when I was in drama school. I taught myself to play the guitar. It was just something to do,” she states simply. “I played the piano beforehand, and I can read music, but part of the reason I learned to play the guitar was to be a complete package and not need an accompanist in order to get out in front of people,” says Cash.
“Getting out in front of people has always been important to me,” Cash declares. “I taught myself how to play very simple things and I found opportunities to play – the Tel Aviv Folk Club was the first place I played in public.”
Given Cash’s natural leaning toward the folkie side of the music business, one would have thought that a good place to start from would be material by such icons of the genre as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez of Pete Seeger. Not so.
“I actually started out doing a variation of what I do now. I was not writing my own music back then but I have always been attracted to storyteller songs, and I am also very good at comedy. One of the first songs I sang was a very funny song by Christine Lavin [who played at Jacob’s Ladder a couple of years back]. I got a tremendous ovation because her songs are so brilliant.”
Lavin’s oeuvre led to other things. “I got hooked on Christine’s material and then I started looking around for other comedy songs. I do that mostly, because that’s what I’m good at.”
Cash, it seems, is pretty good at quite a few musical things, as is currently evident in the King and I show. She says it was inevitable that she should get back to back to the more expansive type of musical project.
“Even though I’m primarily a folksinger, I’ve been singing opera in my living room for about 20 years. My family knows about it, and so do all the neighbors within about a block-and-a-half radius. But I figured if I was ever going to get that voice out of my living room, the time was now!”
You can judge for yourself whether Cash’s timing was spot-on, at the last three slots of the musical’s current run, at Jerusalem’s Gerard Bechar Theater, tonight at 8 p.m., and at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on May 21. For tickets and more information: (077) 450-6012.