Support Your Local Musical Theatre
The first musical I ever saw was עוץ לי גוץ לי (pronounced Utz Li Gutz Li). I was five years old. I liked it so much that I asked to see it again. My parents bought the record, and they copied it onto reel to reel, and I listened to the songs over and over again throughout my childhood, no matter where we lived.
The book and lyrics to Utz Li Gutzli were written by אברהם שלונסקי (Avraham Shlonsky), and the music was composed by Dubi Zeltzer. The play is based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm called Rumplestiltskin, but it's really nothing like the scary children's story, except in the bare bones plot. Instead, it is a satire and a social commentary. And the intended audience? Children and their parents.
Shlonsky was warned that it would be a flop. They tried to convince him to simplify the language, so that children "would be able to understand it." He used the very highest kind of Hebrew, the kind you find in the old testament, and he used it to poke fun at politicians. How could children possibly understand what a deficit is or that trying to balance the budget by printing more money might be a questionable practice? Who would even want to see such a play? The lyrics were not just peppered with archaic words, they were grammatically challenging. Who even uses the dual anymore? And does it really seem like a good idea to make fun of local place names, substituting "House of Womb" for "House of Bread" (Bethlehem)?
Shlonsky insisted on the original text. And the play was a great success. I was there. I was five years old. And from that day forward I was hooked on musical theater.
The Advice Song
Utzli Gutzli is derived from Rumplestiltskin
My Fair Lady
The next musical that made a really big impression on me was My Fair Lady. The play was by George Bernard Shaw. The lyricist was Alan Jay Lerner. The composer was Frederick Loewe. I was ten years old. The location was Ann Arbor, Michigan. My music teacher in the local school took the whole class to see the dress rehearsal for free.
For a fictionalized account of that event, you might want to read my short story The Punky-Wunkies.
Again, this play was not really written for children. It deals with complex social issues. It speaks of the idle poor, the idle rich and middle class morality. It has lyrics like "A man was made to help support his children, which is the right and proper thing to do, but with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck, they'll go out and start supporting you."
With A Little Bit of Luck
I own the book by Shlonsky (אברהם שלונסקי)
Living Without Theatre
It seemed that my early years were spent in an atmosphere rich in culture, where important works were readily accessible, and where going to the theatre was a very normal and natural part of life. Nobody I knew thought children were too simple minded to understand satire or to care about social issues. And it did not require a superhuman effort to get to the theatre. It either didn't cost much or it didn't cost anything. It was no big deal.
And then we moved to Grand Prairie, Texas, and all that came to a grinding halt.
I don't really know why it happened. It's not because of the location. We were in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. There was theater in Dallas. There was theater in Ft. Worth. We could have gone. But for some reason we didn't.
I remember distinctly that my mother said she might take me to see Yul Brynner in The King and I, but then when it turned out that it would require us to drive to Dallas, she changed her mind. Something happened to us. We just stopped going.
Current Day Production of Utz li Gutz li
The Dream of Broadway
For years now, I've had this dream of taking my daughter to see a Broadway play. When I got confined to the pens, I even thought of sending my daughter to visit a friend who lives in New York so that they could attend a Broadway play together. Then my friend told me that she has not seen a Broadway play herself in years, since the tickets are way too expensive.
Do you have to be rich to enjoy theater? Since when? And if that is the case, is it any wonder that the arts are languishing?
But there's also another issue. There's the content.
Modern versus Ancient
Among the literati, there are a lot of left-wingers. This doesn't just affect their politics. It seems to affect their language, too. The idea that children could not understand archaic Hebrew -- one suggested to Shlonsky, but rejected by him -- is closely related to the idea that the "masses" can't understand anything, and you have to dumb things down for them.
As a result, much of modern theater isn't really like Utz Li Gutz Li or My Fair Lady, and it's not worth the inflated prices they are charging for it. Rather than making modern drama accessible to the masses, they have succeeded in making it inaccessible to anyone.
If they made it something that everybody might like to see, they could probably afford to lower the price of the tickets.
Support Your Local Theater
Forget about New York! Or Tel Aviv! Or London. Or Paris. Wherever it is you live, there is a local theater within driving distance. Why not go there? That's what I've decided to do. Tonight, I am taking my daughter to Springfield, Missouri to see the opening night production of Treasure Island, a musical. The cost of the tickets? Twenty dollars.
We have a choice. We don't have to buy into expensive and pointless drama written by and for the intellectual elite, who for some incomprehensible reason live in large, crime infested cities with a high tax rate and vote against everything we believe in. We could go local. And instead of letting them think for us, we could be trend setters.
So wish me luck tonight as I try to find the Landers Theater for the first time!
(c) 2010 Aya Katz
Books by Aya Katz
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