War, A Rock Opera – Now Available For Free Download

After watching the brilliant Israeli rock opera ‘War’ on stage, and blogging about it, I have been corresponding by email with musician Kobi Vitman who created it based on his experiences in 2002 as a reserve infantry soldier during Operation Defensive Shield, and the PTSD that followed. A couple of months ago, when the original cast recording was issued, I tried to convey to Vitman my own experiences as a listener and a fan of the genre, emphasizing the difficulty in trying to track down these musical gems once the curtain closes on the original show. In accordance with my beliefs about file sharing, copyright laws and my own experiences searching for recordings of Israeli musicals, I tried to push for making the entire album available online.

Well, I am so very happy to announce that as of this week, the album is indeed available online and for free. You can still purchase the physical CD, booklet and all, for 40NIS, but if you just want the MP3 files, they are now legally available on WarRockOpera.com. You can still watch the show live in its acoustic version. Check the website for details.


It’s Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

Israelis love their armchair activism. As long as they don’t have to do anything more than click their mouse, they are willing to show their support. This is particularly evident in the sheer number of people willing to join a so-called online protest, in comparison to how few are willing to put on their coat and walk to the city center for an actual real-world protest.

Armchair activism has a particularly disgusting side as it brings out the trigger happiness in people. In light of recent events, dozens of hawkish Facebook groups were created by Israelis, advocating the annihilation of the Gaza strip. All you have to do is click the ‘Join’ button, and you have instantly shown your degree of ‘patriotism’. Here is a selection of those Facebook groups:

[singlepic id=116 w=200 h=303 float=right]In this atmosphere of collective zeal, I think nothing can be more patriotic than watching War, A Rock Opera this coming Wednesday in Tel-Aviv. The show was created by Israeli musician Kobi Vitman based on his ordeals as an IDF reserve infantry soldier during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, but it was painfully relevant to the 2006 Lebanon War – and even more so now, as the conflict in Gaza escalates into a ground invasion. The collective Israeli memory is notoriously short, and so watching this show is an excellent reminder of what war is really like in a country where every citizen is a soldier.

What: War, A Rock Opera
When: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 10:30pm
Where: Tmuna Theatre, 8 Soncino street, Tel Aviv, Israel
Who: Kobi Vitman, Dvir Benedek, Ayelet Robinson, Yaniv Levi
Why: Read my critique


Hagigit Ends the Summer with A Blast at the Jerusalem Theatre

[singlepic id=95 w=300 h=400 float=right]Hagigit, the artists collective I co-founded, was invited to participate in the End of Summer events by the Jerusalem Theatre. We spent the last few weeks in preparation for the three day event, our biggest event to date both logistically and in terms of crowd participation. We set up our famous outdoors studio, packed it with theatre-related props, set up a work station consisting of 6 laptop computers, 2 photo printers, a wireless router, and one strategically placed electric fan.

The whole shebang worked like so: people could play dress up and don outrageous costumes, three Hagigit members staged the studio scenes and photographed them, another member was in charge of downloading the photos and distributing them using our wireless network. Most of the photos were instantly printed by another member, and a few were manipulated using Photoshop by two other Hagigit members.
Myself? I was in charge of hooking up to the jumbotron, displaying the photos taken and playing the Photoshop screen-captures, to the amusement of the crowd.

Here is a short movie consisting of photos taken at the studio:

And here is an example of the sort of Photoshop work that was done in real time, played here at 8 times the original speed:

…oh, and we got mentioned here and here.

War, A Rock Opera – Read My Critique – or, Better Yet, Skip My Critique And Just Buy Your Tickets Today!

[singlepic id=59 w=200 h=300 float=right]War, A Rock Opera   has been running for a while now at Tzavta Theatre in Tel-Aviv, but I had the pleasure of watching it for the first time just this week. I really liked the show, but above all I think it is a very important show to watch. Kobi Vitman     , a young Israeli musician, started writing songs about his ordeals as a reserve infantry soldier during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and about battling symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder upon returning home. Dialogues joined song and accumulated to an all-Israeli rock opera. Just like stand-up comics excel in the phrasing of our mutual experience into funny, Vitman and the cast serve the audience an intensive dosage of articulate Israeli bitterness, which, when served in the form of rock tunes, appeals to the sense of utter despair felt by an entire generation of my peers.

War, A Rock Opera - My Ticket

Cast: Dvir Benedek plays an excellent IDF commander, with just the right amounts of arrogance and smugness he reminds everyone the army commander each one of us had in our time.
Music: Vitman wrote some powerful songs, some of which are bound to enter the Israeli pantheon of political tunes. Most of the lyrics are written tongue in cheek and appeal to a cynical generation all too familiar with the knee-jerk sentences Israeli political figures dish out oh so easily.
Band: Electric guitarist Ron Bunker should be singled out for praise. While the entire band plays awesome rock, Bunker’s solos brought the roof down. Bravo!

Sound: As I have said before, this is my biggest pet peeve when visiting the Israeli theatre. You always have to strain your ears to distinguish the words from the music. If they can balance it well abroad, why can’t they do it in Israel?

Have a listen to Sleep My Child (Shan Yaldi), one of many songs that so eloquently convey the pathos used in the efficient indoctrination of the Israeli citizen in the acceptance of perpetual war. My ad-hoc translation of the lyrics into English is provided for your listening pleasure.

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Sleep My Child (Shan Yaldi) – War, A Rock Opera – lyrics:

Maya (Ayelet Robinson):
Sleep now my wee child
You are not alone anymore
One day maybe we will fulfill the dream
Everything will work out
You will see one day
Instead of war peace will come

One day when you will grow up
Only if there will be no other choice
One day maybe you will be a soldier
You will run, observe, crawl, duck
You will think you have it all
I hope you will be fortunate

I as well wanted a son
That will study, get married,
That will build a family here
In the meantime there are laws, a constitution,
There is a cabinet office,
In the meantime you have no other choice

They’re building the future now
What is there else to say
My dear son
Go out and fight
Bring some warmth
To this cold world

Sleep now my wee child
You will see one day
We will not fear anymore
Sleep now my wee child
You will see one day
We will not fear anymore

Gever (Dvir Benedek):
It is a war for survival
It is who shall live – who shall die
My dear son
In a cruel world
Your narrow world
That is all that’s left

This is the war of existence
Forestall by slaying him
My son you will be grand
And you, give him love
You shall be filled with pride
Later we will mend it all

Sleep now my wee child
You will see one day
We will not fear anymore
Sleep now my wee child
You will see one day
We will not fear anymore

Cast repeats: will not fear
indistinct speech in Arabic
Speaker in Arabic: Death to America!
Crowd in Arabic: Death to America!
Speaker in Arabic: Death to America!
Crowd in Arabic: Death to America!

Sleep now my wee child
You will see one day
We will not fear anymore
Sleep now my wee child
You will see one day
We will not fear anymore

מאיה (איילת רובינסון):
שן עכשיו ילדי הקט
אתה כבר לא לבד
יום אחד אולי נגשים את החלום
הכל כאן יסתדר
אתה תראה שיום אחד
במקום המלחמה יבוא שלום

יום אחד כשתגדל
רק אם לא תהיה ברירה
יום אחד אולי תהיה חייל
תרוץ, תצפה, תזחל, תיפול
תחשוב שיש לך הכל
הלוואי יהיה לך מזל

גם אני רציתי בן
שתלמד, שתתחתן,
שתקים כאן משפחה
בינתיים יש חוקים, חוקה,
יש קבינט של ממשלה,
בינתיים אין לך ברירה

עכשיו בונים את העתיד,
מה כבר יש פה להגיד,
בן שלי יקר
צא ותלחם,
תביא קצת חום,
אל העולם הזה הקר

שן עכשיו ילדי הקט
תראה שיום אחד
כבר לא נפחד
שן עכשיו ילדי הקט
תראה שיום אחד
כבר לא נפחד

גבר (דביר בנדק):
זאת מלחמת השרדות
זה מי יחיה – זה מי ימות
בן שלי יקר
בעולם אכזר,
עולמך הצר,
זה כל מה שנשאר.

זאת מלחמת הקיום
להורגך תשקים לקום
בן שלי אתה תהיה גדול
ואת תתני לו אהבה
עוד תתמלאי בגאווה
אחר-כך נסדר הכל

שן עכשיו ילדי הקט
תראה שיום אחד
כבר לא נפחד
שן עכשיו ילדי הקט
תראה שיום אחד
כבר לא נפחד

כולם חוזר: לא נפחד
נאום בערבית
נואם בערבית: מוות לאמריקה
המון בערבית: מוות לאמריקה
נואם בערבית: מוות לאמריקה
המון בערבית: מוות לאמריקה

שן עכשיו ילדי הקט
תראה שיום אחד
כבר לא נפחד
שן עכשיו ילדי הקט
תראה שיום אחד
כבר לא נפחד

Here you can watch snippets. Here you can buy tickets.

Rent Extended – Additional 141,120 Minutes to Catch the Broadway Musical

[singlepic id=56 w=320 h=240 float=right]Although the official website does not show it yet, the Broadway musical hit Rent will play to September 7, 2008 – according to Playbill. That’s an additional three months you have to catch the show. If you are absolutely, positively sure you will not be able to see it live, you can always rent or buy the film version.

Hat tip to Perez

Here is one of the songs that rings particularly true with me:

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One Song Glory – Rent Musical – Lyrics

One song
One song
Before I go
One song to leave behind

Find one song
One last refrain
From the pretty boy front man
Who wasted opportunity

One song
He had the world at his feet
In the eyes of a young girl
A young girl
Find glory
Beyond the cheap colored lights

One song
Before the sun sets
Glory – on another empty life
Time flies – time dies
Glory – one blaze of glory
One blaze of glory – glory

In a song that rings true
Truth like a blazing fire
An eternal flame

One song
A song about love
From the soul of a young man
A young man

The one song
Before the virus takes hold
Like a sunset
One song
To redeem this empty life

Time flies
And then – no need to endure anymore
Time dies

Israeli Avenue Q – Follow-up #3: Read My Critique – or, Better Yet, Skip My Critique And Just Buy Your Tickets Today!

Avid readers of my blog may have read about my growing anticipation for the Israeli production of Avenue Q (previous post #1, #2) – well I just came back from seeing the show and it is absolutely amazing!

Beit Lessin Ticket for Avenue Q

GET YOUR TICKETS TODAY at www.AvenueQ.co.il

Okay, now that I got the bottom line off my chest, let’s get down to the nitty gritty:
While I love theatre musicals, I am quite difficult when it comes to watching a local production, never being able to stop comparing everything, starting with the translated text, the set, the songs, the orchestra, and every other aspect which more often than not seem to be much better in the original production.
That is not the case with Moshe Kepten’s Hebrew version of Avenue Q – Bravo, Kepten, O Kepten!

Translation: Eli Bizsawi’s translation from English is a work of art. I often complain about still being able to ‘hear’ the original English when the translation is literal and sticks to the words and not the essence – but that is not the case with Avenue Q. As I predicted before, fitting all the information in English into Hebrew, which has oh so many more syllables, is an impossible job – but the translator did not force it, he made the words feel comfortable coming out of the actors’ mouths, using contemporary slang and references.
Actors: Michal Yannai plays herself as the has-been actress, and was a smart bet by the director of the show who felt the Gary Coleman character would not relate to the Israeli audience. Yannai upgraded the part and became the unequivocal star of the show, using many authentic reference points from her actual life to truly make herself be the example Schadenfreude person.
I have to admit I was very concerned with four actors: Roy Bar-Natan (Princeton, Rod), Tali Oren (Kate Monster, Lucy the Slut), Idan Alterman (Nicky, male Bad-Idea Bear), and Nicky Goldstein (Trekkie Monster), all of them are accomplished Israeli comedians, so familiar that I thought they might overshadow the puppets they play. To my surprise all of them gave minimalist performances, maximizing their abilities but minimizing their individual idiosyncrasies.
Michal Muchtar played an amazing female Bad-Idea Bear (Doobie Lo Lo), using her unique voice to show there really aren’t small parts. As previously noted, she is an up and coming star of the Israeli theatre, whose future seems brighter every time we meet. She also played Mrs. Thistletwat wonderfully.
Set: Except for a window that kept opening up, the set was a good replica of the original show, minus the Kate Monster head that shows up for a few seconds. No biggie.

Sound: My biggest pet peeve when visiting the Israeli theatre. You always have to strain your ears to distinguish the words from the music. If they can balance it well abroad, why can’t they do it in Israel?
Actors: Elinor Aharon who played Latina the Spanish immigrant (originally Christmas Eve the Japanese immigrant) was dealt a bad hand and tried to do her best. The M-to-N letter replacement in her accent got old very quickly and became quite annoying. She only shined during her ‘The More You Ruv Someone’ solo.
Nir Shalmon played a parve Bryan, making a human character seem less life-like than the puppet characters. He did not ruin it for me – he just did not do anything for me.
Video: I cannot avoid mentioning the fact that the opening animation got digitally stuck half way through the opening theme, and there really isn’t an excuse for that.
Also, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a DVD player that does not show the word ‘play’ when you press play, but maybe it’s just me.

All and all, a very good production, well worth your time.
There are only a few more shows this month and a few more in November, 2007 – make sure you order your tickets soon!

Israeli Avenue Q – Follow-up #2: Notes Following Press Junket

The Israeli production of Avenue Q conducted a press junket yesterday, performing some of the songs in front of news reporters, and both the actors and the puppets were interviewed by all mainstream Israeli media. As I grow more and more anxious towards the premiere in October, 2007, here are a couple of notes, based on my newly gained knowledge:

Avenue Q Israeli puppets versus their American counterpartsIt seems that Roni Wagner’s puppet-making skills produced some inconsistent results:
while Kate Monster, Nicky and Trekkie Monster (TrekkieFletset in the local production) seem like they are the exact replicas of the originals, the other puppets seem a far cry from Rick Lyon‘s work:
Princeton doesn’t look like he just stepped out of college, more likely he just stepped out of the Kibbutz and haven’t had a chance to change his socks-and-sandals.
Rod with his pale blue skin color seems like a Chinese knock-off of the original investment banker and he seems to have changed the frames of his spectacles to an older and much less endearing ones.
And with Lucy the Slut something just doesn’t sit well, but I can’t put my finger on it. For some reason she looks to me more like a love doll than your local neighborhood slut.

Eli Bizsawi’s translation to Hebrew was probably a difficult task. Unlike English, the holy tongue is full of words with many syllables, which creates quite a challenge for anyone trying to fit the same amount of information into a predetermined amount of stanzas. It seems the translator did a pretty good job, as the words of the songs seem to flow quite naturally.
Besides that, the Israeli production, like the English one, had to bridge over the cultural differences, so here Rod will not read ‘Broadway musicals of the 1940s’ but will watch a DVD of ‘The Eurovision Song Contest – The Beautiful Years’, as it is an activity much more authentic to the stereotypical Israeli homosexual.
Also, the original Japanese character Christmas-Eve was changed to Latina, the Spanish immigrant who faces pretty much the same difficulties as her US counterpart.

Check out the video coverage of the press junket as reported by NRG:


Additional coverage: Channel 10 News, Ynet News.

If you haven’t done so already, check out these related posts:
Israeli Avenue Q – Follow-up #1: Rehearsal Sneak Preview
Uncancelled: Israeli Production of the Avenue Q Musical

An Enemy Within – Nicky, Rod and Senator Larry Craig

I hope that by now you took my advice and pre-ordered your tickets to the Israeli production of Avenue Q coming (out) in October, 2007. If you are anything like me, you have also prepared yourself by watching some Avenue Q videos on YouTube. If that is the case, you might like to watch this new video mash-up of anti-gay-rights senator Larry Craig, who pled guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct, versus Avenue Q’s song ‘If You Were Gay’:


Israeli Avenue Q – Follow-up #1: Rehearsal Sneak Preview

Oh boy, have I got a bag of goodies for all you Avenue Q fans out there. First, check out this photo of the Israeli cast:

Israeli Production of Avenue Q in Hebrew - Rehearsal PR Photo

Front left to right: Michal Muchtar, Lucy the Slut, Tali Oren, Kate Monster, Michal Yannai, Rod, Roy Bar-Natan.
Back left to right: Princeton, Nicky, Idan Alterman, Trekkie Monster, Nicky Goldstein.
Missing from photo: Elinor Aharon.
Peeking in the back: the ubiquitous all-Israeli white Ketter Plastic chair :)

If that photo did not quench your thirst, I know what will: a video clip of the company singing the Avenue Q Theme, but before you press play, I have transcribed the Hebrew lyrics for your listening pleasure, then translated them back to English, and then added the original English lyrics for reference:

Original lyrics Translated back Hebrew lyrics
The sun is shining,
It’s a lovely day,
A perfect morning
For a kid to play,
But you’re got lots
Of bills to pay –
What can you do?You work real hard
And the pay’s real low
And ev’ry hour
Goes oh, so slow
And at the end of the day
There’s no where to go
But home to Avenue Q!
You live on Avenue Q!
You’re friends do too.
You are twenty-two
And you live on Avenue Q!
You live on Avenue Q
You live on Avenue Q
You live on Avenue Q!
Sun is shining
In golden colors
A cat and dog
Play together
You have no
Money for milk
That’s the statusWorks a lot
And earns a little
The time crawls
And crawls slowly
At the end of another crummy day
Me and you
Come back to Avenue Q!
Living in Avenue Q!
It’s not all-that
Just so you know
Living in Avenue Q
Living in Avenue Q
Living in Avenue Q
Living in Avenue Q!
זורחת שמש
בצבעי זהב
חתול וכלב
משחקים יחדיו
לך אין
כסף לחלב
זה המצבעובד הרבה
ומרוויח קצת
הזמן זוחל
וזוחל לאט
בסוף עוד יום מזופת
אני וגם את
חוזרים לאבניו קיו
גרים באבניו קיו
זה לא משהו
רק שתדעו
לגור באבניו קיו
לגור באבניו קיו
לגור באבניו קיו
לגור באבניו קיו!

Also, in a Ynet interview published today, Moshe Kepten, the director of the show dished out some exciting information. Apparently, the musical was translated to Hebrew, but the names and locations were kept, except for one character: the building superintendent in the original production is Gary Coleman, the actor who starred in the eighties television series ‘Different Stokes’ – played by another actor, as the has-been of the Avenue. In a very bold move this part was transformed, and Michal Yannai, who herself was a huge television star for millions of Israeli kids in the nineties, plays herself as the has-been, supposedly telling everyone at home she is participating in a movie filmed in New-York.

The full article in Hebrew can be read here, and is also archived here for posterity.
I have previously posted all the needed ticket ordering information here.

Uncancelled: Israeli Production of the Avenue Q Musical

Although its PR person emphatically denied it last month, Beit Lessin Theatre's production of Avenue Q is in full swing, premiering in October, 2007. This full page ad appeared in the shows schedule sent to subscribers today.

Israeli Production of Avenue Q - Beit Lessin Theatre Ad

The cast will include Michal Yannai, Idan Alterman, Roy Bar-Natan, Tali Oren, Nicky Goldstein, Elinor Aharon, and *Michal Muchtar. Directed by Moshe Kepten, produced by Yariv Yefet and translated by Eli Bizsawi.

To those of you who have no idea what all the fuss is about I would say that if Rent was about 'living in America at the end of the millennium', Avenue Q is about being twenty-two ten years later. You can check out some clips on YouTube, but don't dawdle in ordering your tickets, as there are only seven shows scheduled.

Additional information to follow. Critique to follow in October.

What do you do with a B.A. in English,
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree.
– Avenue Q

*If the name Michal Muchtar rings a bell, it might be because you read my 2005 critique of Beit Zvi's production of the Blood Brothers musical, where she played the girlfriend, Linda.