In theater, what goes on behind the scenes is often just as entertaining as the show on the stage. That’s especially true for LOGON — the Light Opera Group of the Negev — where almost everyone involved is “something else” in real life.
LOGON began as one of those “Let’s put on a show!” ideas — a kind of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland scenario. But for LOGON, the first show — Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” in 1981 — was so successful they immediately planned another.
Some 25 years later, the group is bigger than ever. The 2005 production of “Kiss Me, Kate” played to SRO audiences all over Israel.
For 2006? Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes!” opens Feb. 13.
“Most of what goes on behind the scenes the audience never considers,” states stage manager Lisa Rubinovitch. “Backstage, we worry about making the set look real from the front, work the lights, find stage props, sew costumes, and then transport it all over the country.
“For a show this size — 35 people on stage, plus crew — that gets very complex, especially for volunteers on a tiny budget.”
“It’s not just that our people aren’t paid,” says co-producer Frieda Gilmour, who, together with her husband, Bob, has been producing the annual shows since 1995. “They pay to belong! We’ve never added up the total number of hours that go into a production — it would be too shocking. But for months, rehearsals run three times a week, plus we build and paint sets, and sew costumes.”
“I took voice lessons three mornings a week,” says Sara Fine-Meltzer, who last year starred as “Kate.” “I’d never studied voice before, although I’d always sung, especially to my six kids.”
Fine-Meltzer is a story unto herself: She pulled off every starlet’s fantasy — having never sung professionally, she walked into the audition, knocked the socks off the directors, and landed the title role.
“I always wanted to play Kate,” she says. “But it wasn’t as though I’d never sung before. In my whole life, I’ve really never stopped singing.”
Her voice and dancing wowed the audiences, who nightly rewarded her with standing ovations. In spite of that, this year she’s not involved. “My mother passed away several months ago,” she says. “I’m observing the year of mourning.”
Israel is, after all, a Jewish country. It’s also a Hebrew-speaking country, and since most audiences won’t understand English dialogue, Hebrew words are displayed overhead on a supertitle bar so the audience can read as the actors speak. Most of the technicalities are accomplished by Cyril Simkins, an engineer who joined the crew in 1995, mostly to spend more time with his wife, Golda, who’s been on stage in every production for 25 years.
“First, the English script is adjusted,” explains Simkins. “When it’s final, our bilingual experts take over, and translate it into Hebrew. But it’s not quite that simple: The Hebrew words appear on the display bar, but that bar only handles 32 characters at a time, including spaces and punctuation. So the Hebrew has to be adjusted to fit the 32-character limit. We try to keep the flavor of the English, but it’s not word for word.
“When the show is on, I sit at a keyboard and wear out my index finger,” he continues. “I hit the ‘Page Up’ key over and over, all night. Every phrase is a different screen, so I advance the computer program, line by line. It’s easy — until someone misses a line or jumps ahead. Then I have to scramble to find out where they are, and make the Hebrew fit.”
All theater productions have their “oh my gosh” moments. “For LOGON, none have been serious, thank goodness,” attests Rubinovitch, who admits to having held her breath more than once. “In ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ we had a huge heart that came down from the ceiling to frame two of the singers.
“One night, that heart came down way too fast and barely missed the singers. We almost had heart failure. Literally.”
The producers have harrowing stories of financial survival. What with Israel’s history of war and economic woes, it hasn’t always been easy.
“In 1991, the first Iraq war started, and we didn’t know if we were going to be able to perform at all,” says Bob Gilmour. “There was shelling going on, and many theaters were closed — those that were open were limited to 50 percent capacity, so even if we did open, we could sell only half the tickets. I cut expenses, starting with the 25-piece orchestra, which we cut in half.
“It was a terrible time, but ultimately, only one city canceled. The intifada hurt, too. In 1996, we were scheduled for Jerusalem, but that day, there was a serious attack. We were being urged to cancel because of the danger, but we decided to go ahead. The amazing thing was, we packed all 1,000 seats, actually turned people away. I think it was our Jewish defiance — they just can’t stop us.
“We won’t quit!”