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The Play is the Thing

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American visitors to Israel who are devotees of the American theater may very well feel that they never left home. While Israel may not yet be competition for Broadway or London’s Shaftesbury Avenue, an impressive selection of American and international entertainers regularly augment Israel’s permanent theatrical scene.

A report released here by the North American Israel government tourist office in conjunction with the Israel Ministry of Tourism, noted that American actor James Earl Jones is currently repeating his Broadway role in Athol Fugard’s Tony Award nominated play “Master Harold and the Boys, “with performances in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Carmiel and Arad.

The Broadway cast of the Hit play “Agnes of God” also appeared this summer in Israel, with Elizabeth Ashley, Geraldine Page and Maryann Plunkett delighting Israeli audiences just as they did New Yorkers.

This fall the Neil Simon/Marvin Hamlisch musical hit “They’re Playing Our Song” comes to Israel with the cast which undertook the show’s recent successful American tour. The musical will play October 1-3 at the Jerusalem Theater and October 4-15 at Tel Aviv’s Frederic Mann Auditorium.

Apart from visiting drama, there is constant theater in Israel. The country has four major repertory theaters –Habimah, Cameri, Haifa and Beersheba Theaters — plus countless small companies. The Habimah (Hebrew for “the stage”) company was founded in Moscow in 1912, performing plays in Hebrew for the first time in 2,000 years, and now is based, as is the Cameri company, in Tel Aviv.

Plays in Israel are generally performed in Hebrew, although some are presented in English, Arabic, French or German. However, all major Israeli theaters have simultaneous translation facilities for English.

All types of drama are performed, from Aristophanes to Shakespeare to Shaw to Sholom Aleichem to Neil Simon, Noel Coward and Edward Albee …. to a multitude of Israeli playwrights.

Israeli talent is also exported. In New York, Israeli ballerina Galina Panova is currently starring in the Broadway hit musical, “On Your Toes.” “Soul of a Jew” a play by Israeli dramatist, Yehoshua Sobol, is currently a major attraction at Britain’s prestigious Edinburgh International Festival.

Elsewhere in Britain, Topol, the Israeli star of the movie musical “Fiddler On The Roof,” is recreating the role of Tevye the milkman in a London stage revival of the hit show.

The arts in Israel are of the highest standard. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the country’s numerous orchestras, was founded in 1935 by Arturo Toscanini, and is acknowledged as one of the world’s top 10 orchestras, and is under the directorship of Zubin Mehta.

Dance companies such as Bat Dor and Batsheva appear regularly in Israel and around the world. (Bat Dor opened a two week run last night at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan in New York City). Other major entertainment events this season have included two concerts in Jerusalem’s Birket Sultan open-air theater–one with Judy Collins, and the second with Simon and Garfunkel.

Simon and Garfunkel will return to Israel for a second major concert at the Ramat Gan Stadium, the largest arena in metropolitan Tel Aviv, on Saturday night September 24.

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