We may finally be emerging from the dark tunnel of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that hardly sounds like a topic for a musical. How has the enforced isolation affected us all; some worse than others? Are we destined to be permanently trapped in Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse? Can young children recognize unmasked faces? And really, can we grasp any humor from the situation?
This season’s offering by Israel’s veteran English-language musical theatre group, LOGON (the Light Opera Group of the Negev) provides an answer. The Broadway Cure, an original satirical musical review written by librettist Jeff Meshel, is a comedy (okay, a black comedy) about a very unfunny period of isolation.
The show takes place in the near future, when the COVID-19 virus has been eradicated. But two dozen patients severely damaged by lockdowns and social distancing remain in the last Post-Pandemic Psychological Trauma (PPPT) hospital ward, which is about to be closed. “When all the COVID-19 wards in the country closed, this hospital got the leftovers, the hopeless cases,” declares the tyrannical hospital director. “They’re nothing but fakers and shirkers, taking up valuable beds. They have to be cleared out.”
Unfortunately, the newly hired neuroscientist, Dr. Bob, who is more familiar with earthworms than humans, is totally clueless about how to prepare the patients for their release into the real world.
What’s the solution? The cleaning lady knows: Sensitivity therapy with the help of Broadway’s greatest hits. And true to its name, The Broadway Cure weaves in favorite Broadway songs from LOGON’S past musical productions.
“How do you measure, measure a year?” is a line from the song “Seasons of Love,” from the 1996 musical Rent, one of only two songs in the show not performed in LOGON’s past shows. Though it was written in a completely different context (the AIDS crisis), considering the difficult and transformational two-plus years we’ve been through and accomplished together, “the song seems appropriate in the theme of isolation,” says Meshel.
This year LOGON is celebrating its 40th anniversary, making it the oldest English language theater group in Israel. This will be the first time that the company is mounting an original production, rather than a well-known Broadway musical. The challenge, says Meshel, was how to integrate songs that LOGON has performed in the past with the narrative. (Think, perhaps Mama Mia.) “The idea for the story,” he explains, “was the problem of isolation as a result of the pandemic. What’s the solution? Music. Music as therapy, music as a way to heal the social maladies of COVID-19, as opposed to medically.”
As in every conventional musical, the songs blend logically with the plot. The task was how to achieve this with songs that are already well-known (e.g., “Sit Down You’re Rockin the Boat,” “I could Have Danced All Night,” “Getting to Know You”, and so on) that also work thematically. “Ironically, some of the songs are woven more fully in the plot of The Broadway Cure than they were in the original shows,” says Meshel, who has also appeared on stage in past LOGON shows.
Then, how to create a comedy out of a grim situation. “There’s nothing funny about being locked in, isolated and lonely. But it’s human nature to laugh whenever we can, especially in challenging times, because humor lifts our spirits,” maintains Meshel.
Founded in 1981 in Omer near Beersheba, LOGON (the acronym far predates the internet age) draws participants from the south of the country. It began originally by performing Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, then deciding it had exhausted the G&S repertoire (and perhaps its audience), LOGON began producing Broadway musicals, which the company stages every year in performances around the country.
Like so many other theater groups in the country, LOGON had its share of cancellations when COVID-19 darkened Israel’s stages. The 2020 run of The Sound of Music had to be shut down and re-booked for 2021. Then last May, performances had to be canceled again because of rocket attacks from Gaza.
Still, (masked) rehearsals for the new show resumed at the end of the year. Meshel believes that, in a sense, LOGON’s latest production echoes the subject of the show or vice versa. “LOGON is truly a community theater – a theater community. It’s people who have overcome the pandemic isolation by coming together to make theater, to bring the audience to laughter, to bring everyone involved in the production together.”
Performances of The Broadway Cure begin March 14th at Eshkol Regional Hall, then go on to Jerusalem, Rehovot, Modiin, Be’er-Sheva and Ra’anana. Tickets may be purchased online at [email protected] or the telephone hotline 08-641-4081.