Through a series of circumstances I was invited to a rehearsal of The Beit Hillel Theater Workshop’s Elton John & Tim Rice Aida. I had no idea what to expect, but it exceeded my expectations on so many levels.
Arriving at the Hebrew University – Mount Scopus campus, I got lost as I usually do. Arriving at the theater, I got lost again… lost in the incredible vibe of performers doing what they love. It wasn’t even a dress rehearsal; just lots of songs and scene reviews, and yet the magic of the theater, through the energy and joy expressed by the actors and other cast members, thoroughly captivated me so that I lost all track of time.
I was introduced to the room and the goings-on by the exuberant, veteran Hillel Theater Workshop director Michael Berl. After giving me a synopsis of the show and introducing me to the main characters who form the ‘love triangle’ in the show, Michael directed the rehearsal toward the goal of showing me a wide array of scenes, while keeping me fully entertained. He succeeded mightily.
The stars themselves were charming. I first met ‘Aida’ herself, a delightful young woman named Miri Fraenkel. Miri, originally from London, made Aliyah just over 10 years ago. Now 20, she’d been performing in Jerusalem community theater since age 13, and is now in contract for the professional show, Ah Jerusalem, which will be performed in the Tower of David.
Next I met David Djemal, who plays the male lead, Radames. A native English-speaker born in Israel, the 22 year-old has been acting and singing as long as he could remember. However it was only during his army service that he discovered the English-language theater in Jerusalem. David has been handling challenging roles with aplomb, having done Shakespeare, playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and many others.
The final member of the ‘love triangle’, Amneris, is performed by Noga Yechieli. Also born here, but to an American mother, the 20-year-old is truly passionate about her acting, and in fact was dashing off to the States before the final dress rehearsals to audition at some of America’s finest performing arts schools.
Turns out that Miri, Noga and David have known each other for years so there is natural chemistry there which makes the love triangle credible and exciting. Indeed, seeing them interact both on- an off-stage was quite engaging.
Actually, the cast all interacted like they’d known each other forever. What was so interesting was the wide range in age and demographic. While I expected it to be all college students, the cast ranged in age from 17 to 65. There were students and professionals, religious and secular, native Israelis and olim, and a few participants in overseas programs who don’t live in Israel at all. With all of their differences, there was an incredible community atmosphere.
“Someone might say a line from another show,” Noga pointed out, “and people will immediately respond with the next line. ‘Community’ theater is a real community”
The cast was positively glowing about their director. “Michael breaks conventions,” Noga told me. “He’s been doing this for 28 years. He knows how to make an ensemble feel important, give direction to the chorus, and to every cast member and make each character shine.”
He knows how to make his guests feel important as well. Michael made sure I was sitting in the most ideal spot in the theatre, and made me feel like a VIP as I watched the cast go through various numbers with well-known music director, Paul Salter, choreographed by the highly accomplished Adina Feldman. Besides for the fact that the performers were extremely talented and dedicated, you could see that they were really in their element and enjoying themselves, and Aida is a great show. Being the only member of the audience has its perks too…
After enjoying some of the various scenes performed in no particular order in that rehearsal, I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed myself – way more than I expected to – and am looking even more forward to Opening Night when I will be able to see the full production, from start to finish.
About doing shows such as Aida, David sums up the experience well: “In musicals, where music and dance are used to complement the narrative and help tell the tale, that is the best. That is what we try to do here.” I can vouch for the fact that they succeed.
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