“Nighttime. Stormy. December 11. Stayed late at the office, because I’m a guy.”
Feet on up his desk, lit by a solitary pool of light, Amit Olman as Private Eye Joe began his prologue, and it was like something straight out of a 1940s film noir classic, accompanied by the solo guitar and talented vocal percussion of his fellow performer, Omer Mor.
“Then she, drenched from the rain, entered the office. From the first moment, I knew nothing good would come from this,” continued Olman.
Thus started “This City,” a very original hip-hop detective musical set entirely to music, created by The Victor Jackson Show ensemble, under the wing of Jerusalem’s fringe theater group, the Incubator Theater.
The show includes elements of a gritty whodunit film noir, hip-hop music, rap, beat boxing and operatic style-sung dialogue, all woven through the story of a riveting murder mystery starring small-time detectives, mysterious singers, hard-hitting policemen and more, played by a small cast of five. There are also strong themes of Israeli culture and intricate text inspired by the cast’s love of the Hebrew language, which “is there because of who we are,” said Olman.
The music is a constant underscore, evoking the style of Jonathan Larson’s iconic rock opera “Rent,” where characters never just speak, but put everything to song.
But this is no pale imitation of a pre-existing show. Both the band, The Victor Jackson Show, and “This City” have become local cult hits, with fans returning multiple times to see the show.
“I don’t think we got this idea from anyone,” explained Mor, whose stage name is Itzik Pzazaty. “There are many [similar] things out there, but not specifically this. Not an entire story, with all the dialogue in rap.”
There’s an element of storytelling in rap, added Olman, the show’s protagonist and one of the core members of The Victor Jackson Show.
“This is a kind of serious development of that, but there are rap numbers that have this kind of dialogue,” he said.
While it was almost impossible to catch every word, especially in some of the blisteringly fast rap sections, it’s clear that this is art delivered with passion and skill.
Using a variety of traditional musical instruments such as guitar and keyboards, as well as an upturned-plastic-tub-turned-drum and impressive vocal sound effects, the music created is simple yet intricate, often repeating a motif but playing with the rhythmic feel.
The sound effects originate from the The Victor Jackson Show’s beatboxing and vocal percussion, but were further developed for “This City,” Olman explained.
The lighting is designed by one of the performers and matches the show beautifully. The scenes are incredibly sharp and often extremely funny, offering drama, razor-sharp wordplay and clever staging in equal measure. The actors’ rhythmic polish and precision is unparalleled, and the group works as a cohesive unit, seamlessly rebounding off of each other’s energy. There are no barriers between instrument, actor and audience. Everyone is swept into the story.
Roni Rocket, one of two actors who joined The Victor Jackson Show to perform in “This City,” said it’s common for audience members to return multiple times, in order to understand and enjoy the performance more.
“Most people don’t catch the entire show,” explained Dorit Lilien, the other actor who joined the group for “This City.” “But it’s a lot, a lot, a lot of text and it goes very quickly.”
The Victor Jackson Show started off as a larger band, but currently comprises the core group of Olman, Mor and Omer Hevron (stage name: Jumbo Jay), who have been working together since high school, about ten years In total. Olman, Lilien and Rocket have a background in acting from the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, while Mor and Hevron did theater in high school. Rocket also plays the drums and Lilien studied jazz singing at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music.
The trio started to develop story-driven hip-hop songs and eventually put together the main elements of “This City.” The script was unfinished when all five began to develop it, each person in turn looking at a scene from off-stage to offer input.
The show is a natural progression of the group’s already performance-art-based style, said Mor, and they wanted to adapt it to a more full-fledged theatrical experience, given everyone’s acting experience.
“You try something and say ‘Let’s do it like this, let’s do it differently, that doesn’t work for me like that,” Mor said. “It wasn’t, ‘That’s how it’s written and that’s how we’re doing it’ — not at all.”
Budgets are run on a shoestring, “absolutely nothing,” said Olman, and minimalist to an extreme. The stage is almost bare; a simple wooden desk, a chair or two, a hat stand with a few costume pieces, a piano, makeshift drums, a microphone. The actors are dressed simply, with neck microphones and a guitar.
They also frequently mime use of various props, which only adds to the rich imaginative landscape of the show. The costumes were put together by the group, as well. “Everything we did with pretty much no money,” said Olman.
The result? A truly unique experience, elegantly blending variant genres. Grab the opportunity to see this one-of-kind experience, it’s an unforgettable evening.
Upcoming performances of “This City”; tickets available online at Tixwise.
- December 26, 8:00 pm, Regional Hall, Hevel Eilot
- December 28, 8:30 pm, Beit Mazi’a, Jerusalem, SOLD OUT.
- January 2, 8:30 pm, Beit Mazi’a, Jerusalem
- January 15, 8:30 pm Tzvata, Tel Aviv
- January 18, 9:00 pm, Ensemble, Herzliya
- January 22, 9:00 pm, Mercaz Hatzeirim, Beersheba
- January 25, 9:00 pm, Heichal Hatarbut, Yavneh