Sahar's song and dance

At just 12 years old, Sahar Lev-Shomer has performed in a number of musicals already. Now, he’s back to perform in ‘Seussical,’ a show based on some of Dr. Seuss’s famous children’s books.

SAHAR LEV-SHOMER with a fellow performer. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SAHAR LEV-SHOMER with a fellow performer.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Things were picking up in the rehearsal room of Beit Canada in Musrara, Jerusalem.
A nimble-looking, bearded twentysomething limbered up with all sorts of stretching exercises, while a teenaged girl got into her own warm-up routine. Meanwhile, a ginger-haired young man began to try out a routine with 12-year-old Sahar Lev-Shomer, while director Rabbi Yisrael Lutnick did his utmost to sort out various logistical snafus with some of the younger members of the cast.
Two weeks before the Israel Musicals theater company unveils its latest production, Seussical, things are becoming somewhat feverish, and the adrenalin barometer is in danger of going stratospheric. There are 13 performances lined up over the next couple of months, with shows in Jerusalem, Zichron Ya’acov, Netanya, Givatayim, Modi’in, Kfar Saba, Ra’anana and Rehovot scheduled between January 12 and March 2.
“I think this is the first time anyone has done Dr. Seuss material in Israel,” says Lutnick, who has accrued a wealth of directing, producing, singing and acting experience with the company over the last six years, including with a show based on Frank Sinatra hits, and smash musical Evita.
But presumably, putting on a show based on Dr. Seuss books is a different kettle of fish. “It is and it isn’t,” Lutnick remarks diplomatically. “It is the first show [by Israel Musicals] that targets younger children as an audience, although I have to stress this is by no means a kiddie show. It is the same sort of family show as Annie or The Sound of Music, but Seussical is probably the most innocent of all the shows we’ve done.
But, at the same time, it is probably one of the richest shows we’ve done in terms of educational values and important lessons.”
After just a few minutes of observing the rehearsal warm-up, Lutnick clearly has a decent array of talent at his disposal for the new production, one of the brightest and youngest of which comes from Lev-Shomer. “Yes, Sahar is quite a character,” says the director. “He came to audition with a résumé. And this is a 12-year-old kid.”
Tenderness of years notwithstanding, the youngster has already accrued a wealth of experience in musical theater in the United States. Lev-Shomer was born in Jerusalem but his family relocated to the Netherlands when he was one year old, and thence to California a couple of years later. The Lev-Shomers returned here around a year ago.
The youngster puts me right about his age from the outset. “I’m 12½,” he declares, which naturally, prompts questions about his impending bar mitzva, and the possibility of him doing a star singing turn in synagogue. “We’re going to go to New York and see a lot of Broadway shows,” comes the quickfire response, accompanied by a delightful 200-watt grin.
Lev-Shomer is not exactly new to the Israel Musicals production, which culls from a number of Dr. Seuss books but is primarily based on Horton Hears a Who, which tells the story of the eponymous elephant who, in the face of severe social pressure, does his utmost to protect a minuscule planet and the Whoville community that lives on it. “I didn’t read too many Dr. Seuss books when I was younger but I was in Seussical before, when I was in school [in California]. It wasn’t professional and I was [Seuss character] the Cat in the Hat. This one we’re working on now is longer and has more things in it, but what I did when I was at school was still Seussical.”
It was love at first Dr. Seuss thespian venture. “After that I really got into all the books,” continues Lev-Shomer excitedly. “When we go to the library, when my sister has to get books out, I always go to the Dr. Seuss section and read book after book, millions of books.”
The almost-teenager has been treading the boards for a few years now. “I did my first musical when I was in second grade, but before that I did plays that weren’t musicals,” he explains. “My first play was when I was two or three – a long time ago. It was [Lewis Carroll’s 1871 children’s classic] Through the Looking Glass, which came before or after Alice in Wonderland.
I can’t remember.”
Lev-Shomer notes his penchant for musicals was fueled by his Stateside sojourn. “In America, musical theater is everywhere.
Basically I did the school plays, which started with [musical comedy] You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and then I did Seussical and Annie, and then I did The Wiz.”
By then, Lev-Shomer was starting to take things more seriously.
“I began to take voice lessons. That helped with my singing and stuff.”
Lev-Shomer caught the acting bug right from the start. “We have videos of the first plays I did, and you can see me mouthing everybody else’s words. I learned all the lines. I find it quite easy to learn lines.” I suggest that the youngster is lucky in that respect.
“Yes, it’s a wonderful gift to have,” he observes unabashedly.
Musical theater has clearly become a source of pleasure for the youngster, but he says he just likes acting. “I like performing. I like being on stage. I also like pretending to be things that I’m not, because that’s fun.”
Lev-Shomer digs the whole thespian package. “It’s fun after the show, like getting flowers. I like the whole experience.”
What about groupies? “Kind of,” he says shyly.
Does he feel like a bona fide thespian? “I feel like I could be an actor,” he muses. “I am acting in plays, so I guess I am an actor.
It is exciting. This [Seussical show] is like my first real play, with adults. But I’m not starting from scratch because I know most of the songs. I did it in second grade, and it’s fun remembering the songs I did back then. I saw a video of my doing Seussical in second grade. I was really little then.”
Lev-Shomer plays a character by the name of JoJo in the Israel Musicals production. JoJo is a something of an oddball heroic figure. “He basically saves his planet by making a noise,” explains Lev-Shomer. “He is a thinker. He basically thinks the whole play. He comes up with all these weird ideas so his parents decide to send him to the army, because his parents think the army will make a man of him. But when they get to war he says “I’m not going to fight,’ and just walks away.”
Lev-Shomer likes his character. “It’s a nice role to have. He’s a cute kid.” Sounds tailor-made for him.
Lutnick is delighted to have the youngster on board. “They say in New York that if a casting director takes a person’s résumé and just holds the paper at a distance, and if they see more white than black, they immediately know the person is not experienced . If you took Sahar’s résumé and did the same thing, you’d see more black than white on the paper. And he’s quite a character. He’s such a delight.”
All told, Lutnick has a 21-strong cast at his behest. “We have a few professionals mixed in with talented amateurs,” he says. “We have students, people who are about to graduate the Academy [of Music and Dance at the Hebrew University] and young performers who are hungry for stage time and to be in a musical. Being in a musical is a big event. This is based on a wonderful book, which all sorts of educational and other messages in it, and is very entertaining.”
The director expects the members of the audience, particularly the younger ones, to take notice of some important subtexts.
“There is the concept of standing up to bullying and protecting those who are vulnerable, and the elephant has to stay faithful to his values. I think those are all good things to learn.”
Judging by some of the rehearsal warm-up routines, Seussical is a very physical production. “It’s sort of like a pop opera,” observes the director. “There is very little spoken dialogue and the story is pretty much sung. And when you get all that music, you are also going to get a lot of dance and choreography.”
Lutnick says he and the rest of the cast have their work cut out for them, but that it is a labor of love. “Putting on a show is never walk in the park. But this show has all the dance stuff, and almost every song has multipart harmonies. It is a lot of work and a lot of fun.”
For tickets and more information about Seussical: 077-450-6012 and