A real-life fairy tale

The lead actresses in LOGON’s latest production is playing out her own love story

Beauty and the Beast 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of LOGAN)
Beauty and the Beast 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of LOGAN)
The haunting melody from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast sets the stage for the traditional fairy tale: Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live happily ever after. But even in fairy tales, it’s never that simple. As the curtain goes up February 14 on the Light Opera Group of the Negev (LOGON)’s production of the famous Disney musical, any number of enchantments, magic spells and mystical transformations take place before the beautiful Belle finds her one true love.
Preparing for the group’s 32nd annual production, LOGON’s cast and crew relished watching a real-life romance coming into bloom, echoing elements of the musical taking place on stage. As a result, four days after the final LOGON performance, Rebecca Dekanu, who plays both Nicole and the Sorceress in the production, will marry her handsome prince, Robert Demdenski, who doesn’t perform but is involved behind the scenes, in a joyous ceremony attended by family flying in from all over the world. Since both Dekanu, who hails from Albany, Oregon, and Demdenski, a native of Germany, recently finished their IDF service as lone soldiers, the LOGON players came to view the young couple as family – two of their own, playing out a real-life fairy tale right alongside the stage play.
Of course, the path to true love never runs smooth; it didn’t for Belle and her Beast, and Rebecca and Robert were no different, although their original meeting has a common element. Belle met the Beast while trying to rescue her father, who was being held captive in a dungeon beneath the Beast’s castle. Similarly, Dekanu found herself trapped when she first met Demdenski, albeit in a far more mundane location.
“I was stuck in the luggage compartment under an Israeli bus,” laughs Dekanu, describing a scene straight out of Private Benjamin. “I was in basic training and had to carry an enormous backpack around with me all the time. It was gigantic and, that day, a whole crowd of us were getting on the bus at the same time. The luggage compartment under the bus was completely full, so I crawled in, trying to shift some packs to the back. Unfortunately, the driver didn’t know I was there, so he started to shut the door. I was struggling to crawl out, when someone grabbed me from the outside and helped pull, but I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even look to see who my rescuer was.
“Then, because I was the last one to get into the bus, there weren’t any seats. Everyone gawked at me as I stood in front, right up by the driver. It was awful. I was a total mess, completely drenched in sweat from the heat, my hair in a ponytail, with a uniform that was about four sizes too big. I stood there, blushing bright red, trying to play it cool, when – right in the middle of the aisle – was the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen. I didn’t dare look at him directly, but I saw him give me a little half-smile, so I smiled back. When we left, he walked by and said, in English, ‘Have a good week!’ I hollered after him, ‘You too!’ That’s where it all started.”
At the time, Dekanu was all alone in Israel. “My whole family had come to Israel several years before,” Dekanu recalls. “But when my dad took a job back in the States, they all left. I wanted to stay. I’m a big Zionist, and I wanted to volunteer for the army. I was 22 at the time, and didn’t have to, but I’d wanted to serve in the army since I’d been a Sar-El counselor, working with young people who come to Israel for two or three weeks to help on army bases, cleaning equipment and packing medical supplies. I wanted to serve myself, besides which I knew I’d never get my family back here if I left when they did.”
Singing and acting come naturally to the Dekanu family, she says.
“We are ‘Interlace,’ our own family rock ’n’ roll band – ‘Interlace’ because as family we’re ‘laced’ together. I’m lead singer and play the bass guitar, my sister sings and plays the guitar, another sister plays piano and our little brother plays the drums. It’s how we grew up. My mom’s father was a college professor in theater, so my mom has always been onstage. My dad’s a musician who toured with his cousin. We’d played as a group before, but it was coming to Israel that really made us bond as musicians. We were isolated here because of the language barrier, so by playing together, doing clubs, building up our confidence, the music helped us adjust and integrate. We were talking with producers when my family left, and then I went into the army, so we took a break, but performing has always been a part of my life. I even did a television infomercial when I was 12.” THIS COULD have been one of those “what might have happened” moments, the encounter you ponder 30 years later. But that didn’t happen.
“Weeks later, I forgot my ID card one day and ended up arriving at the train station later than usual, and there he was again.
This time, I told myself, ‘You are a soldier on a mission,’ so I managed to work up the courage to talk to him.
We sat together and talked – or rather, I talked. He was quiet and modest – or was it that he was completely uninterested? We made plans to meet – although twice that fell through. The first time, I was a little under the weather and had to cancel. The second, I had to help a friend move out of her apartment. She didn’t have a car and was desperate, so I agreed to help. I apologized to Robert, but after that, I didn’t hear from him for five months.”
Once again, Egged came to the rescue. “I was going to a new base, near Eilat, and again, there was Robert, sitting right in front of me. We talked, laughing about all the mishaps that had kept us apart for those five months.
He’d come looking for me, but I was gone. He lost his phone. He sent a Facebook message I never saw. Again, we made plans. Robert would come for Shabbat – and this time, I was the one who nearly blew it. A friend had used my apartment while I was away, and in my absence had thrown a party and absolutely trashed the place – plus my cat was missing! At the exact moment I saw all the damage, Robert called and I heard myself yelling, ‘I lost my cat! My apartment is destroyed!’ That was it. I’d ruined it, I just knew it. I told Robert I didn’t want a boyfriend. I stopped answering my phone. Then I got a text message: ‘I just want you to know I love you.’ “So really, the first time we actually got together was the day we got engaged. Ever since Robert pulled me out of that bus, we’d been trying to get together. I’d been looking for him, he’d been looking for me. We decided to get married after the army. ” ANOTHER “after the army” task was finding a theater group.
“Before, I’d been part of a theater group in Haifa, and I wanted to do something like that again,” Dekanu recalls. “But by this time, my family was back in Israel, and I wanted to be close to them. My 18-year-old sister started it – she kept calling, saying she wanted to come finish high school here, and then do army.
“‘Come!’ I told her. ‘I’ll support you!’” She came. Then my next-youngest sister, age 16, came, then finally the others.
They’ve been here for six months now, living in Lehavim. I wanted to stay close to them, so now I wanted a theater group in the South. I could hardly believe it when I discovered LOGON. It was perfect – in Beersheba, a big theater community, English speakers, all ages.”
Once again, timing was everything. “I called just as auditions were starting for Beauty and the Beast. I’d never seen a LOGON performance – never heard of LOGON before – and was afraid I was too late. But no, they said I should come and audition. I prepared a song from the musical Grease, but they had their own songs instead. I auditioned for either Belle or Babette – or, I said, I’d be happy to just be in the chorus. All I wanted was to be part of it. As it happened, both Belle and Babette are roles for first sopranos, and I’m a second, so instead I became Nicole, a role they created just for me.”
LOGON’s production differs from the film version in that seven more musical numbers have been added, Dekanu says. “It’s an adult version of the fairy tale, a little darker and more realistic.
We show that it’s what’s inside the person that counts. The beast looks ugly and hideous from the outside, but when we see the inner person he’s sweet, kindhearted and dear. Gaston, on the other hand, is tall, handsome and looks like a real Prince Charming. But he’s arrogant and empty-headed, someone to avoid. The show has meaning – and the music alone is powerful. We worked so hard on the harmony, getting it to sound just like we wanted. It’s been fun.”
Beauty and the Beast starts its run of 10 performances on February 14 in Beersheba, then continues to Nesher, Modi’in, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Givatayim, Yeroham and Jerusalem, with two final performances in Beersheba on March 13 and 14.
Then comes the wedding. “It will be small,” Dekanu says.
“We’ve put most of our resources into helping people travel here from abroad. My grandparents are coming and almost everyone will come to the final performance. It’ll be quite a celebration!” And for the happily-ever-after part? “We’re going to stay in Beersheba so I can be involved with LOGON. This is the career I started, this is what I want to do. The two-year break I took while I was in the army convinced me of that. Robert will commute to his studies at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, I may study here at the Goodman Theater or at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, but I plan on being a part of LOGON for a long, long time.”
Beauty and the Beast plays at the Modi’in Heichal Hatarbut at 6 p.m. on February 19 and at the Jerusalem Theater at 6 p.m. on Match 10. For tickets and other information: www.negevlightopera.com, (08) 641-4081 or negevlightopera@gmail.com