A Jukebox Musical Ignites Israeli Culture War

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At first glance, the Cameri Theater’s repertoire for its next season looks no different from those of seasons past. The list of plays unveiled late last month reflects the same crowd-pleasing mix that has made Tel Aviv’s municipal theater into a national powerhouse: translated classics both old and new (Shakespeare, Chekhov, Mamet) alongside original Israeli fare.

But a new Israeli musical on that list has sparked controversy unlike anything Israeli theater has seen in recent memory. The Cameri announced that it plans to premiere Zeh Ani (It’s Me), a new musical by the writer and director Maor Zaguri, featuring the songs of Eyal Golan, one of the country’s most popular singers. The synopsis sounds harmless enough: It’s the story of the (fictional) Jerusalem Sephardic Orchestra, and of the attempts of its impresario, the elderly Toledano, to convince his three rebellious daughters to take up his mantle. A gentle Lear with pop songs, if you will. Israeli theatergoers have not been immune to the Mamma Mia! effect, and new musicals with familiar songs are a safe bet. Golan’s Mizrachi pop songs are as familiar as they come. One would be forgiven for assuming that the Cameri had a surefire hit in its hands.

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