Jerusalem transforms into the Great White Way

some of the glitz and glamor of the Great White Way has made its way to the capital in the guise of the spry musical comedy Ah, Jerusalem!

Ah Jerusalem (photo credit: Gura Berger)
Ah Jerusalem
(photo credit: Gura Berger)
Jerusalem is about as off-Broadway as you can get. But some of the glitz and glamor of the Great White Way has made its way to the capital in the guise of the spry musical comedy Ah, Jerusalem! which debuted last week at Beit Shmuel.
Geared for tourists, veteran Anglos and theater lovers in general, the play attempts to combine Neil Simon-like comedy, inventive musical numbers and Jerusalem’s spirit, history and sense of adventure. That patchwork is due to the collaboration between American-born, Jerusalem-based composer-lyricist Danny Paller and veteran Hollywood and Broadway producer and writer Bernie Kukoff.
Their fast-moving, entertaining production uses time travel through Jerusalem’s rich history to reflect the transformation that a typical American Jewish family – the Axelrods of Indianapolis – experiences on their first visit to Israel.
The plot focuses on Charlie and Madeline Axelrod (Nitzan Sitzer and Roni Yacobovitz) and their teenage daughter Robin (Miri Fraenkel), who are packed to go on vacation to Mexico when Charlie gets a nighttime “vision” from his ancestral Uncle Mordechai imploring him to go on a mission to Jerusalem to retrieve a family treasure.
With witty repartee, adept dancing and heartfelt singing, the group encounters love in the time of King Solomon, danger in the time of the Crusades, and a “ticket to history” in the Jerusalem bus station circa 1920. The show is full of humor and twists, as the Axelrods experience a high-energy, transformational journey.
The winning cast – most of whom play multiple roles – represents its own type of Jerusalem mosaic.
Fraenkel, 19, originally from London, is doing her national service. Gadi Weissbart, who plays Philip the Mean, is a native-born Israeli who, with a lifelong passion for the arts, knew the producer and got involved. Josh Bloomberg, who plays the time-traveling tour guide Shmulik, is a former Broadway performer who made aliya five years ago.
According to Paller, the play attempts to capture the essence of Jerusalem, while remaining palatable to an audience of casual tourists who may not know the difference between Jaffa Gate and Jaffa oranges.
“Tourists work very hard” discovering the elements of Jerusalem, said Paller, and the play is a signal that they don’t have to put that much effort in to enjoy the city’s historical charms.
“The relationships are real,” says Lev Kerzhner, who plays many roles, including the Crusader lord, in the play, referring to the fact that the play isn’t just about the epic story of Jerusalem, but also about the minutiae of everyday life.
Bloomberg took it a step further, comparing the plot to living in Israel as a whole. “Take a hard look and make sure you can uncover the magic of Jerusalem, it is a special part of one’s heart,” but it is a struggle, he said.
Jerusalem is all about transformation, with few who visit ever leaving the same. The layers are historically deep but also at a human level, as every character tries to uncover himself. The biggest transformation was perhaps in changing the story’s warmongering Crusader character into a prince of peace, all in the work of the main character Charles Axelrod – psychologist, father and husband – adeptly played by Sitzer.
“It is all about the magic madness to Israel,” he said. “To find peace starts from within. Every character goes through this, and is required to transform.”
Of course, Ah, Jerusalem! is also just good fun, without all the introspection. The dance numbers, sharp dialogue and colorful costumes enable a 75- minute escape.
“Don’t come heavy, come easy and enjoy,” the play is a “fun cartoon with people,” said Kerzhner.
While Jerusalem has no shortage of English-language theater, Ah, Jerusalem! is a welcome addition to the landscape, and with shows planned every Sunday and Thursday nights for the next six months as an initial run, it looks as though it could become a staple on the nightlife scene in the capital.