From Stratford to the Great White Way

Jerusalemites were treated this week to snippets of Shakespeare and the best of Broadway.

While the hall was alive with the sound of music, the gardens were graced with the soliloquies and sonnets of Shakespeare. This past week, Jerusalem audiences were treated to a taste of Broadway and a bit of the Bard. On Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Botanical Gardens, the Shakespeare Jerusalem troupe presented the premiere of its Midsummer Night's Show, a two-pronged program the company hopes will become an annual event. A nonprofit performing arts organization, Shakespeare Jerusalem is dedicated to staging Shakespeare's work in Israel in English and helping to introduce Shakespeare to a new generation of artists and theatergoers through education enrichment programs and artists-training workshops. In keeping with the original open-air environment in which Shakespeare's plays were presented in 16th-century England, the space next to the pond at the Botanical Gardens was set up with chairs for the capacity crowd to sit and watch the performance. Not only was the entrance to this event free of charge but ice-cold lemonade was available gratis as well. But there was a donation box for the audience to show their appreciation after the show with more than just applause. The first half of the program was entitled "Battle between the Sexes." Taking selections from a mix of Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies and historical works, the segment was comprised of scenes from seven of his 40 plays: Richard III; The Taming of the Shrew; Twelfth Night; A Midsummer Night's Dream; The Winter's Tale; Othello; and the epilogue from As You Like It. The program was performed by Herzl Tobey, Roni Yakobovitz and Shannon Kisch, who also served as the narrator. Low on scenery, props and costumes, the presentations were high on passion and energy. The scenes were well acted, and the fine-tuned audio equipment allowed the audience to hear every word sharply and clearly. Before each scene, the narrator gave a brief introduction in Hebrew and English to provide some information about the play, the characters and the set-up of the scene. Handouts in English included that information as well. Kisch also provided some details about Shakespeare himself and his life and times. For example, she explained that the plays were always performed in the daytime in the open air and on an open stage. That meant that the actors could look out and see the audience and their reactions. But it also meant that the audience could see everything that was happening on stage, as well as behind the scenes, which could sometimes be distracting. To illustrate the point, the other two actors became engaged in a heated discussion beside Kisch while she was addressing the audience and ultimately drew her into their diatribe. The staged argument was an effective "bit of business." After the epilogue from As You Like It, there was resounding applause for the show and its cast. The second half of the program at 9 p.m., called "My Best of Love," was described by the organizers as "a theatrical concert exploring the beauty and complexity of love, featuring Shakespeare's sonnets and popular Israeli songs." For this segment, the cast members were Michael Marks, Lisa Woo, Nadav Vikinski and Abe Doron on drums, directed by Shannon Kisch, under the musical direction of Vikinski. Matching about a dozen Elizabethan sonnets with modern Israeli songs, the concept was very successful. Commented audience member Yehuda Berlinger, "It was phenomenal. The selections were great, and the level of the performers was very professional." Some of the matches made in heaven, so to speak, were Sonnet 116 and the song "We Haven't Talked about Love Yet (written by Ehud Manor and Matti Caspi); Sonnet 61 and "Four in the Morning" (by Yehudit Ravitz); Sonnet 87 and "Until You Leave" (By Rita and Rami Kleinstein); and Sonnet 76 and "An Eternal Covenant" (by Ehud Manor and Matti Caspi). By all accounts, the Midsummer Night's Show was very warmly received. As Berlinger asserted, "People should donate and make it an annual event." ON FRIDAY afternoon at the Leo Modell Hall of the Gerard Behar Center, Israel Musicals took to the stage to present its two-hour musical theater concert entitled "Broadway Showstoppers." Starting off with a rousing rendition of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from the Broadway musical Gypsy, the cast of six singers proceeded to perform some 35 popular favorites from some of The Great White Way's best-known shows. Breaking the material up into themes, with appropriate stage banter in between, the group divided the songs into such categories as music, money, love, hope, prayer, magic, dreams and friendship. Sometimes in unison and sometimes as soloists, Yisrael Lutnick, Shimrit Rabi, Zvika Goldfeld, Jessica Ouzen, Rahel Jaskow and Lev Kerzhner sang their way into the audience's hearts with their well-trained voices and avid enthusiasm. The familiarity of a good, well-known song strikes such a resonant chord that one is veritably swept away on a musical carpet by the tune and the lyrics. Making such a clean sweep were - in addition to (of course) "The Sound of Music" and old favorites from Fiddler - such songs as "I Wanna Be a Producer" from The Producers; "Thank You for the Music" from Mamma Mia!; "Tonight" from West Side Story; "Cock-eyed Optimist" from South Pacific; "Tomorrow" from Annie; "Luck, Be a Lady Tonight" from Guys and Dolls; "Memory" from Cats; "Summer Nights" from Grease; "What I Did for Love" from A Chorus Line and "Consider Yourself at Home" from Oliver. The group was accompanied by pianist Marina Levinsky and an ensemble of guitar, bass, drums and violin. In a tribute to George Gershwin, Levinsky played a virtuoso medley of his classic songs, ranging from "Embraceable You" to "The Man I Love" and "You Can't Take That Away from Me." "I am passionate about musical theater," Lutnick told In Jerusalem after the show. "I studied it for several years in New York, and I'm glad it's happening here to add to the cultural life in Israel in English," said the Long Island native. Laughing, he added," My theme song could be 'I Wanna Be a Producer.'" Dedicated to creating musical theater in Israel, Lutnick has thus far produced 1776; The Sound of Music; Man of La Mancha; "Let the Memories Live Again" and "If I Could Rewrite the World." Taking a break for the summer, Israel Musicals will be back in full force after the chagim. Stay tuned.