Tel Aviv is known for its booming cultural scene—leading contemporary dance companies, out-of-the-box fine art exhibits, outstanding orchestras—but when it comes to musical theatre, it took director Tzadi Zarfati to finally give Israeli audiences the Broadway experience they deserve.
"Funny Girl" tells the story of Brooklyn-born Jewish comedian and actress, Fanny Brice, who rises to the top of stardom after signing with legendary American Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. Just as Fanny wins audiences over with her talent and a touch of satire, the Israeli lead, Maya Dagan, wins her audience over with a stunning, standing-ovation-worthy performance. From the moment she twirls around her mother on stage in modest clothing to her iconic jaw-dropping first act finale, she commands full and undivided attention.
What really proves Dagan’s worth though, is her impressive ability to never break character. Even when a stubborn fake moustache falls to the floor during one of her second act Ziegfeld routines, she picks it up—in rhythm—and slaps it across her forehead without missing a beat as if intended as part of the comedic act. It’s these small details that leave English-speaking audiences leaving the theatre saying, "Barbra who?"
Although the Israeli script and songbook are entirely in Hebrew, thanks to modern technology, complete English subtitles grant international audiences the privilege of enjoying this hit performance as well—not just the vibrant costumes, intricate choreography, sensational live band, and tip-top tap dancing numbers.
Speaking of tap dancing, an unexpected standout rose to the occasion this December. Supporting role Eddie Ryan, a dancer Fanny meets in the vaudeville shows, sends chills down the audience’s spine as his intricate taps echo through the theatre. And, his talents don’t stop there. As Eddie tries to claim credit for Fanny’s success in a dueling duet with her mother, we understand this triple threat was born to shine in the spotlight. While the female chorus fell in the shadows of Dagan, the male chorus stood out with their synchronized choreography and suave personalities to match the production’s time period.
Finally, what ties this adaptation together in a neat bow from start to finish is the electric chemistry between Dagan and Amos Tamam, who plays her gambling lover, Nicky Arnstein. He too gives Omar Sharif a run for his money (plot-based pun intended). Whether reading the English subtitles or diving into the native words, these two lead roles teach us that love is a universal language that cannot be lost in translation.
The show that gained Barbra her fame in 1964 has merely reminded us of Dagan’s unadulterated talent. Whether North American or Tel Avivian, British or Jerusalemite, while the tune remains untouched to Barbra Streisand’s famous lyrics "don’t rain on my parade," the Hebrew interpretation "don't ruin my party" will ring through your ears in Dagan’s sweet voice for days afterward.