Kfar Saba is one of Israel’s most workable cities: quite green, quite peaceful, quite close to Tel Aviv. It has parks and malls, a courthouse and a hospital. But despite some wide avenues and a cultural center, New York it ain’t.
The theater has hosted some pretty impressive musicians in its time, but to see a Broadway star, residents had to pack a bag and fly to Manhattan.
Until now. In what felt like a minor miracle, Eryn LeCroy, the superstar lead in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, recently blew into our sleepy town, serenading us with one of the best singing voices in the world today. Slipping in and out of gorgeous gowns, she Streisanded her way through “Hello, Dolly!” proving conclusively that she can sing anything better than you.
Suddenly, she was Eliza on the cusp of getting that dratted plain, but instead of enunciating about rain in Spain she was wrapping her vocal chords around barad that yarad be’ Spharad before launching into a thrilling “I could have danced all night” with trilling “od od ods” punctuating the Hebrew “Lirkods.”
How did this happen? What was a mega-performer doing in the heart of the Sharon, delighting us with snatches of Hebrew on top of her perfect pitch?
The story starts some 20 years ago, when a young Israeli commander broadcasted a routine announcement over an army loudspeaker. “You have a beautiful radiophonic voice,” his officer remarked, and promptly conscripted him to emcee a memorial for Yitzhak Rabin. “And you sing, too?” continued the officer. “Can you include a few songs?”
Isaac Sutton, then 20, had never sung a note. “Sure I can,” he replied.
Up until then, Sutton’s path had seemed set; the son of a successful businessman he was sure he was on the IDB route – Into Dad’s Business. But the enthusiastic approval of his soldier audience never left him; during business school in Tel Aviv, he joined a choir, and belting out melodies felt much more like fun than computing rows of figures. With Israel being really one warm kibbutz, it wasn’t long before he was sharing a voice coach with Ahinoam Nini, meeting her violin player, and through her, his first pianist partner.
A successful show led to a stint at the Cameri, with a singer, bass player and drums added to the mix. Sutton, with his brightly colored jackets, rich baritone voice and movie-star looks, started out with the great American songbook-themed shows, directed the Broadway Israel show and later produced The Israel Prize tribute to the greats: Naomi Shemer, Nurit Hirsh, Ehud Manor and Sasha Argov.
And then he came up with his hiddush. His ensemble was swinging through some of the greatest hits of Broadway; why not invite genuine Broadway stars to sing along? “I began performing in New York myself in 2017,” he says, nonchalantly, as one does. “I started reaching out to stars and realized that a lot of them would love to sing in Israel. So I brought them here to share a stage with me.”
Sutton sang with Carrie St. Louis, the star of Wicked, in Studio 54, and soon she was performing alongside him on the stages of the Holy Land. DeLaney Westfall, who starred in Beautiful, Sweeny Todd and Kinky Boots, came back in April for a second sold-out tour with Sutton, after their recent joint show at NYC’s Green Room 42. Amanda Jane Cooper, another Broadway headliner, and Wicked’s 15th anniversary Glinda, was on tour here with Sutton at the very beginning of COVID, “and what a nightmare that was, to close the show and send them home.”
“Let’s talk about depression,” smiles Sutton, with the memories of the pandemic still doing a drum roll in his head. We are sitting in a packed, trendy café in Tel Aviv; our croissants buttery and our cappuccinos hot; depression doesn’t seem part of the deal. “But it was very real,” confides Sutton, as he recalls the canceled tours, the returned ticket money, the boredom. “After a few months I was considering going to work in a bank,” he remembers, “even the eventual government help could not fulfil the soul.”
With a fractured soul, and a broken hand, Sutton jumped on one of the first planes out and travelled in the States. A resident of Tel Aviv, New York is his home-away-from-home; he studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Circle in the Square Theatre School. He continued to sing sporadically, recording a Broadway Israel CD with the stars and working with Israeli opera sopranos.
Now that the skies are open. he is flying in the hot names again: LeCroy, who sparkled as Christine in Phantom, stunned audiences throughout Israel with her classically trained, massive voice. Sutton was right there at her side: mooning how he only wants to be on the street where she lives, chiding that anything she can sing he can sing sweeter (no he can’t, no he can’t, no he can’t!) When she performed, perfectly, the whole of “Hurshat Ha’eucalyptus” in soaring Hebrew diction, it felt like an angel had landed straight on our stage.
It’s a heimish show – the greatest musical standards with a bit of Jewish warmth – Sutton thanks his parents mid-show for being in the audience and for their support; LeCroy says hi to her mom in the auditorium and blows her a kiss. A devout Christian she is grateful for her “God-given gift” and happy to be walking in the places where Jesus roamed.
Go, Isaac Sutton. Walk the land where Jesus walked with the shining stars of great musicals, and put them up on our stages where they can dance with you, banter about Broadway and, especially, sing of better days ahead. For a few brief hours you make us feel that, despite the ongoing damn pandemic, and wars, and terror and death, we are all somewhere with you, over the rainbow.
How great is that.
The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl College. [email protected]