‘Gently’ – a humdinger and something to think about

The singing by both principals and the group called Liberation is top-notch

A SCENE from ‘Gently.’ (photo credit: YOSSI TZVEKER)
A SCENE from ‘Gently.’
(photo credit: YOSSI TZVEKER)
By Shiri Nadav Naor
Directed by Moshe Naor
Lyrics by Shaa’nan Streett
Score by Amir Lekner
Choreography by Tom Appelbaum
Haifa Theater, January 29
There is a deliberate irony – not forgetting the title – to this appealing, sometimes raucous, sometimes tender, always entertaining, often hard-hitting musical, not least in its (unintentional, I’m sure), stars. They are the comic relief of Adam Hirsch and Ashot Gasparian as a couple of lazy, benighted, racist cops who have some nifty musical numbers as they bedevil, torment and generally harass the poor and black refugees of Gently.
Another irony is that (mainly) Ethiopian Jewish actor/singers, themselves the targets of local cops, and whose Jewishness the all-white Rabbinate questions, are portraying African refugees whom nobody wants in a country built upon the ashes of the Jewish Holocaust so that Jews might avoid persecution by having a place to call their own.
The musical’s title is the name of an itinerant musician, the very charismatic Gili Yalo who charms his way through the character of Malachi Gently. The elegant and classy Esther Rada plays his wife, Miriam, who has recently been delivered of a white baby – the actual delivery scene being a very effective company number to the Hebrew translation of “Amazing Grace.”
When the cops see the white baby, they arrest Miriam – she sings the bitter, hard-edged “Just Shut Up” to help her keep her mouth shut and thus avoid a beating. In desperation, Malachi turns to Yaron Brovinsky, who has a tour de force of his own, keeping his foot permanently in his trying-to-be PC mouth as he plays TV celeb Michael Fried, whose cleaning lady, Miriam, is Fried’s intervention and does the trick. Miriam and baby are released, and in gratitude Malachi invites him to dinner. Wouldn’t you know? The cops turn up there too and things go disastrously wrong.
But you can’t have a musical that ends in tragedy, so for the finale the whole company joins in the Hebrew version of “I wish I Knew How it Feels to be Free” by Billy Taylor and Richard Carroll Lamb that was the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement
Lily Ben Nachshon’s outrageous set of pylons, electronic billboards and skyscrapers behind a scrim is a perfect urban grimscape. Yuval Kaspin’s costumes are ingenious, often glitzy to vulgar, and therefore wonderful. The songs tell their own story, properly complementing the plot. Bambi’s lighting zings along. The singing by both principals and the group called Liberation is top-notch, and if the choreography is prosaic, it doesn’t matter because – bottom line – Mr. Naor has given us not only a humdinger of a production but also something to think about.