Audiences packing the Hirsch Theatre in Jerusalem in January for “Rothschild & Sons,” the musical by the creators of “Fiddler on the Roof,” won’t see Roxane Goodkin-Levy or Batya Feder among the large cast of actors and musicians, but the show couldn’t happen without them.
Roxane Goodkin-Levy is one of Jerusalem’s great illusionists. She designs the gardens, palaces, pirate ships and wonderlands that set the stage for the productions of the Encore! Educational Theatre Company.
For the musical being performed from 7-16 January, Goodkin-Levy has a new challenge: creating a four-storey house modelled on the Rothschilds’ House of the Green Shield in the Frankfurt Ghetto that opens to allow the audience to see the action taking place inside.
The house has to look as though it’s eight metres tall, but the stage is only half that height. To solve the problem, Goodkin-Levy has created a three-dimensional optical illusion that plays with the perspective so the house appears higher than it actually is.
“I hope it works,” says Goodkin-Levy. “I love the challenge.”
“As far as the audience is concerned, the sets just appear. People don’t realize the amount of work that goes into it,” she says. “I enjoy having to use my brain and make things look as professional as possible even though it’s an amateur production.”
Goodkin-Levy, an art teacher who studied at Reading University in Britain, has designed more than 20 Encore! productions for director Robert Binder. She created an onstage garden and a solid-looking painted study for “My Fair Lady,” a striking Chagal-themed mis-en-scène for “Fiddler on the Roof” and a stark cityscape of Dickensian London for “Oliver!”
“I used a beige colour backdrop and did it like an old print with black and white lines to get the whole effect of old, broken-down London falling to pieces,” she says.
As “Rothschild & Sons” progresses, the family becomes wealthier, and the interior of the shop has to keep pace.
“They start off poor. As they get richer, we have to add nicer things and cover up the poverty and add things,” Roxane says. She has developed a way to do that but doesn’t want to give away the secret.
“I don’t want to spoil the story,” she says.
Meanwhile, as Paul Salter’s musical direction helps carry the action forward, responsibility for choreography rests on the young shoulders of Batya Feder, a Toronto native who first performed with Encore! in their production of “The Wizard of Oz” during her gap year in 2017.
Now living in Israel and studying dance at the Seminar Hakibbutzim, Feder has been choreographing shows since she was in high school. “Rothschild & Sons” is her first Encore! show as chief choreographer.
“I love dancing. Teaching is a learning curve for me. I’m learning a lot from it too,” Feder says.
Feder wants the dance to suit the early nineteenth century setting of the play. Knowing that the performers have a wide range of abilities, she also makes sure to match the movements to the cast.
“When I’m thinking of what to do I try it out on myself, then I have to make sure it works with everyone. I also want to see what they can do,” she says. “I took some of what they were doing to help me, to make sure it can fit. It has to feel comfortable for them, because if they don’t feel comfortable with it, it will look weird.”
The play gives the cast an opportunity to explore a range of styles from group movement to waltzes and dances with partners.
“The waltz is difficult, so I have to explain it in the right way. I can’t just use dance terms that I understand. I do it slowly and go over it many times to make sure they understand it. I don’t just stand there and tell them what to do. We’re working together,” she says.
One trick, she says, is sometimes to use steps that are easy but look great.
“If I see that something’s not working, I’m not going to force it on them. I try to change it a bit to make sure it works. There was one change I made that worked amazingly, so that’s good,” she says.
Even the simplest movements can lift the show and help create a bigger spectacle for the audience, she says.
“If people are just standing there and singing, it doesn’t feel like they are really into it. It’s like they’re in a concert and they’re singing. They have to feel it,” she says. “If there’s a number where they are very happy, they should be happy and move like they’re happy, so it’s not just like a radio.”
As opening night approaches, Feder says the results will be fun to watch – and perform.
“I feel they are getting a lot out of it too, and learning how to do things differently. I hope they get it and it will be amazing. It will be,” she says.
Rothschild & Sons has six performances from Jan. 7-16 at the Hirsch Theatre, Beit Shmuel, Jerusalem. Tickets: http://tickets.encore-etc.com/ or call: 054-578-9006