The children of LOGON

The Light Opera Group of the Negev, which is beginning its run of ‘Oliver!’ next week, has a long history of encouraging younger actors.

Children of LOGON 521 (photo credit: Benny Kahane)
Children of LOGON 521
(photo credit: Benny Kahane)
During filming for the British version of Lionel Bart’s hit musical Oliver! in 1968, there were 84 boys between the ages of eight and 15 in the cast. So chaotic and rambunctious was the film set that one member of Parliament complained to the media that the young actors needed more help and protection than had the orphan boys back in Charles Dickens’s day.
Not so in the LOGON (Light Opera Group of the Negev) version of the musical, which opens its run of 10 cross-country performances in Beersheba on Thursday. LOGON lists 17 kids as cast members this year, but no one is complaining. In fact, the kids who have grown up with LOGON, singing, acting and dancing, are some of the show’s biggest enthusiasts.
For all 31 years of the group’s annual all-amateur productions, kids have been on stage. Veteran LOGON members recall that even in the early days of Gilbert & Sullivan shows, if the play didn’t naturally include children, a few parts would be written in.
Because of the intensive rehearsals – four nights a week for six months a year – many parents preferred bringing their children along with them and making them part of the show rather than leaving them home alone.
In spite of the subject matter, Oliver! – the merry and engaging tale of orphan boys in Victorian London – doesn’t even set the record for the number of kids on the LOGON stage. That distinction goes to the 2008 production of The King and I, in which 20 actors under the age of 18 appeared. That said, Oliver! does set one new record: Little AnaEl Homans, at just eight years old, is the youngest child ever to appear in a LOGON production.
This year, two 12-year-old actors share the role of Oliver. Although LOGON productions are famous for not having stand-in actors waiting in the wings, it was decided that with children playing leading roles, there should be two actors available to play the part. With all 10 performances running during the country’s cold and flu season, having two Olivers and two Artful Dodgers ready to go seemed the wiser plan.
Each Oliver will play the lead in five venues, then, in the five other venues, take up a role in Fagin’s little band of thieves.
“They let us each choose which ones we wanted to play,” says Marva Korine from Sde Boker, one of the Olivers. “We each picked the places where we had family or friends, and then someone went through our choices and made it work for both of us.”
Also for the first time this year neither of the kids playing Oliver has a family connection to LOGON. Over the years, most of LOGON’s young actors were the children, grandchildren or other relatives of adult members, but these two preteen actors came to LOGON on their own.
“One of my mom’s friends heard about the auditions, and my mom asked me if I wanted to go,” says Ishay Frenkel of Dimona, who plays the other Oliver. “I really wanted to try to get a part. I’ve done some singing and acting in our school productions in Dimona, and I knew I liked doing it, so I thought this would be fun. During the audition, I sang ‘Where is Love?’ I didn’t really expect to land the role of Oliver. That was a surprise. It’s exciting – kind of scary and fun at the same time.”
The rehearsal time for LOGON productions takes a particular toll on the child actors, if only because it interferes with such elemental things as homework and bedtime. During the early months, rehearsals start at 7 p.m. and last only a few hours, but as the opening dates get closer, rehearsal time expands. For many weeks, rehearsals start at 6 p.m. and continue until 11:30 or even later.
“We knew it would be intensive,” says Rifka Frenkel, Ishay’s mother, “but Ishay really wanted to audition, so I agreed. Of course it disrupts our normal schedule. We live in Dimona, so it takes about an hour to get him into Beersheba and then another hour afterwards, to bring him home.
But we’re not complaining. This is such a wonderful experience for him.
He’s learning so much – this is the kind of thing he’d never learn in a classroom, so there’s no question all the sacrifice is worth it.”
She says she doesn’t worry about her son missing “a little homework or even a little school once the actual performances start. We’re so proud of him.”
Korine also has a long commute.
“It’s a little easier for me,” she says.
“There’s another kid from Sde Boker who’s in the cast, so our parents can take turns bringing us and picking us up. But the whole thing is really worth it. I’m having so much fun. Sure, I get a little tired, but I’m enjoying every minute.”
Korine also came to LOGON through a family friend. “My mother heard about it. We went to an informational meeting LOGON had, where they explained what LOGON was all about. It sounded good, so we decided to try.
“I’m a girl, so I wasn’t even thinking about playing Oliver,” she continues.
“I auditioned for Charlotte, one of the orphans.”
After the auditions, she recalls, she was told she would be in the play, but not as Charlotte. When she went to the first rehearsal, she was asked to audition for the role of Oliver, and she agreed.
“I had only one hour, right then, to go over some lines, then I did the audition,” she says. “I finished, and after just a few minutes they called me back and told me I’d gotten the part. I was so excited I couldn’t believe it.... I’ve been in theater camp and school productions before, but nothing like this.”
Is it difficult for her to play a boy? “At first, it was sort of funny, but I got used to it,” she says. “Right now my long hair is an issue. I’ve been pinning it up underneath my cap, but there are some places where I have to take my cap off, and that’s a problem.
I’ve tried wearing a wig over my hair so I can doff the cap, and that might work – but at one rehearsal both the cap and the wig came off, so that’s not good. We’re still working on it.”
Both young actors are native Hebrew-speakers, neither one having an Anglo parent – which means that another challenge lies in learning not just English, but Dickensian English.
Frenkel learned English from his mother. “We work on it whenever we can,” he says.
As for Korine, she already speaks virtually accent-free American English, for which she credits her father’s profession.
“My dad teaches at Sde Boker. One year when I was a kid he had students here from all over the world for a summer program. I spent as much time with them as I could, learning English. So it’s not hard for me at all.”
She waxes philosophical about missing some homework assignments and a few classes. “It’s hard to do both things – I get tired. But my teachers are all supportive. I know some kids have tried to study during rehearsals, but for me that doesn’t work. There’s just too much going on.”
What’s the hardest part of the whole thing? “Getting up in the morning,” she laughs. “Other than that, I’m loving every minute.”
After this performance, she says, “I want to keep doing plays. I’d like to be an actress, so I hope I can be in next year’s show, too.”
KORINE AND Frenkel may end up kicking off LOGON dynasties of their own. In past years’ productions, many LOGON kids brought other family members into the group, instead of the other way around.
In 2001, Gal Lifshitz was the first in his family to join. This year, his younger brother Shachar is in Oliver!, and one of his sisters, Nitzan, has played in four different LOGON productions.
Even his mother, Sarit, is part of the crew; for many years, she’s played the flute in the LOGON orchestra.
Lifshitz – now 22 and an officer in the Nahal Brigade – began with child roles and grew into playing adult leads.
Starting at age 12, his first role was Winthrop in LOGON’s 2001 production of The Music Man, and he played in every subsequent LOGON production until starting his army service.
“When I was 16, I played Billy Crocker, the adult lead, in Anything Goes. It was a big life transition for me, kid to adult, and a lot of hard work. But it was fun and I really put myself into it.”
Like Korine and Frenkel, Lifshitz came to LOGON through a family friend.
“My father worked with Myra Bennett, who’d been a key LOGON member since the beginning,” he recalls. “My dad asked if I wanted to audition, and I said I did. It sounded like fun.... I play the piano, and I’d done a lot of concerts. I love performing.
I didn’t know that I was good, only that I enjoyed it.”
He says his friends never teased him for participating in the shows, “not even the year when I had to wear a toga in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. They just thought it was cool – they’d all come to the performances.”
Rehearsals ran long back then, too, but according to Lifshitz, they had some downtime to study.
“Sometimes they’d have the kids come in at 6 p.m. and rehearse them first,” he recalls. “But then, as the show opening gets closer, the rehearsals become more intense.... We did have a chance to study some, though. We’d bring our homework, sit down together and study together, at least for a while.”
He says he is still in touch with many of the friends he made this way, “mostly because many are still part of LOGON. I hope to go back, too, as soon as I finish my army service.”
He adds, “I’m not married yet, but when I am, and if I have kids, I’d love it if they were a part of LOGON, too.”
Shavit Baruch, another kid who grew up in LOGON, came in with an important family connection.
“Arnie Gross, one of the LOGON founders, is my grandfather, so I knew all about the organization from the time I was a little kid,” the 18-yearold Baruch recalls. “I started by playing a concubine in The King and I. I’m a dancer and had been on stage a lot, so I never got stage fright.”
After she entered the army, she and a friend decided they wanted to turn their LOGON experiences into a documentary.
“It didn’t work,” she says. “At least not now. It’s just too difficult to do when I’m not there. For my military service, I’m a photographer in the air force. It’ll have to wait for awhile.”
Though she has a specific family connection, Baruch says LOGON itself is like a family for the kids.
“When we weren’t rehearsing ourselves, all of us kids would sit around a table and study, and people would come over to help us, just like they were all our parents.... That’s the way LOGON is: Whatever we needed, someone there there for you.”
LOGON’s Oliver! plays in Beersheba on Thursday February 23 and again on March 21 and 22. It will play in Nesher/Haifa on February 27, Netanya on March 1, Tel Aviv on March 5, Modi’in on March 11 and Kfar Saba on March 19. There will be two performances in Jerusalem, at The Jerusalem Theater, to aid Emunah: March 14 at 8 p.m. and March 15 at 6 p.m. Tickets can be ordered through Emunah: (02) 561-7317, (02) 581- 2859 or (02) 624-3574, or LOGON: (08) 641-4081. For general ticket information, call (08) 641-4081 or visit