Third time’s a charm. The third production of the Tel Aviv’s new musical theatre is, well, charming. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lively musical version of Richard Linklater’s 2003 film gets a mostly successful Hebrew version, with a cast of talented children who steal the hearts of the audience.
The story can be described as a rock version of The Sound of Music, with a gruff rock musician taking the place of the singing nun. Unemployed Dewey Finn assumes the identity of his friend, a substitute teacher, and shows up in a prestigious prep school where he turns the overly disciplined kids into rebellious mini-rockers. Somehow, he also manages to capture the heart of the rigid headmistress who has a rocker inside her waiting to break out. Lots of educational messages about good parenting and such make it a cheeky show for the whole family. On the night I saw it, there were more kids than adults in the crowd, probably because of the holidays, but it clarified the feeling that the production is geared, maybe a little too much so, towards kids.
The lead role of the rocker/teacher was handed to Tal Friedman, one of Israel’s top comedians. Friedman also has a rock band, and on paper he seemed the perfect choice for the role originated by Jack Black in the movie. But on the evening I saw the show he wasn’t in top form. The guy is funny, there’s no doubt about it, but he didn’t seem to really embrace the role full heartedly. Despite the long hair wig that adorned his head, he never became the obsessive looser who refuses to give up, and that diminished the potential of the more emotional scenes in the second half. Also, his singing wasn’t good enough for a musical, a real problem as his character has the most songs.
Luckily, everyone else around him was a much better singer, especially the excellent Ayelet Robinson as the headmistress. Displaying an amazing soprano capable of doing justice to Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria (she sang it better than the actress who originated the role on Broadway), she later surprised again with a completely different tone of voice in “Where Did the Rock Go?”. And she was funny as well. It’s a pity that her ‘can these two very different people fall in love?’ scene with Friedman didn’t work as well as it could have, had he devoted himself to his role as she was to hers. Hagar Engel also made an impression as the annoying girlfriend (who sings much better than we expect her to), and the cast of teachers/parents was generally good.
Happily, the kids, as mentioned above, were all captivating. They sang beautifully, together and as soloists, played their own musical instruments, and they were all invested in doing their best.
Director Eldar Groisman did a very good job with the kids, and with the flow of the whole production. It’s a pity that the technical aspects weren’t as professional, and the show stopped for a few minutes due to a faulty sound system. Lili Ben Nachshon designed an inventive set of moving doors which were incorporated into Michal Shay’s sweeping choreography. All in all, it’s a fun evening that falters a bit in the second half.
- Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Lyrics: Glenn Slater
- Book: Julian Fellowes
- Director: Eldar Groisman
- Choreographer: Michal Shai
- Cast includes Tal Friedman, Ayelet Robinson, Hagar Engel
- Tel Aviv Theatre תיאטרון תל אביב