Five years ago, Talya Lavie’s biting comedy about a unit of bored female soldiers in a remote desert base became a monster hit in Israel. Watching the new stage musical version of the award winning film (Best Narrative Feature in Tribeca Film Festival), makes us feel as if we were just waiting for the girls to open their mouths and sing about their frustrating daily experiences – serving coffee to the male officers and executing mostly pointless chores, while counting the days until they are discharged.
Daffi (the lovely silk voiced Meshi Kleinstein), who dreams of escaping the desert and transferring to an army base in Tel Aviv, next to a shopping mall, writes letters to anyone she can think of, including the chief of staff. Her best friend Zohar (the wonderful Magi Azarzar) plays computer games and hopes to finally lose her virginity, but she dare not open her mouth in the presence of the cocky camp hunk (Asaf Hertz), who doesn’t even notice she is there. Both girls are giving a hard time to the female officer Rama (Maayan Turgeman) who takes her position in the army much too seriously. And then there is Russian born Irena, a rough and tough girl with a no-nonsense approach. This role was conceived as a scene-stealer, and Diana Golbi does steal it with a lot of spunk and a big raspy voice.
Playwright Oren Jakobi borrowed the beloved characters and sharp punchlines from the film, and added some more, enhancing the atmosphere of sexual harassment that leads to the attempted rape – a scene that for a while changes the feel of the show and adds dramatic tension and gravitas.
Composer and lyricist Ilay Botner wrote a bunch of punchy songs, all beautifully served by the very talented cast and by Oz Morag’s choreography that turns military gestures into dance moves. The musical opens with “March 2003”, in which the girls sing about the chauvinist and sexist system they are serving. The rhythm and sentiment pull us right in. Another highlight is a song in which all the girls fantasize about the camp hunk. The song is an ironic homage to the kind of melodies performed by the popular military bands of years past. The clear showstopper is a variation on “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, in which the girls go to a shooting range and contemplate about who they want to kill. Irena’s elaborate fantasy about shooting the kids in second grade who called her a Russian whore, is a kick to the throat while being very funny.
Ido Rozenberg’s direction flows with ease between witty comedy and painful drama. One or two memorable scenes from the movie are not given a full treatment on stage, but a couple of new scenes take their place – such as the shopping mall fantasy in full colour.
In the end, it is a musical about sisterhood that helps the girls survive the ordeal, and the final scene is very moving in a quiet and intimate manner. It is a fitting end to this high energy and charming musical that is bound to become a big hit on the Israeli stage.