Tel Aviv hosts ‘Chicago’ as Shiri Maimon fills the house
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Tel Aviv hosts ‘Chicago’ as Shiri Maimon fills the house

The Israeli singer and former reality show star brings Broadway to Habima national theater for 16 performances

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

  • Shiri Maimon (left) and Terra MacLeod as Velma Kelly in the final scene of 'Chicago,' currently touring in Tel Aviv, March 2019 (Courtesy Orit Pnini)
    Shiri Maimon (left) and Terra MacLeod as Velma Kelly in the final scene of 'Chicago,' currently touring in Tel Aviv, March 2019 (Courtesy Orit Pnini)
  • Shiri Maimon's first English-speaking role, in 'Chicago,' now in Tel Aviv (Courtesy Orit Pnini)
    Shiri Maimon's first English-speaking role, in 'Chicago,' now in Tel Aviv (Courtesy Orit Pnini)
  • A show-stopping scene featuring the female inmates on 'Chicago,' now playing in Tel Aviv's Mann Theater (Courtesy Orit Pnini)
    A show-stopping scene featuring the female inmates on 'Chicago,' now playing in Tel Aviv's Mann Theater (Courtesy Orit Pnini)

Tel Aviv’s Bronfman Auditorium was packed Thursday night to welcome Shiri Maimon back to the city for the opening night of “Chicago,” as the Israeli singer brought a taste of Broadway to her home stage.

The US national tour version of the hit musical will be performed 16 times over the course of the cast’s nine-day stay in Israel, March 7 through 16, a run set in motion when Maimon was cast in the show early last year.

The first performance in Tel Aviv was a major stage moment for Maimon, who rose to fame as a singer and then actress after being the runner-up in the Israeli reality show “Kokhav Nolad.” She represented Israel in the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest, the launching pad for many a celebrity, and has since forged a career as an acclaimed musician.

While serving as judge on the show that originally brought her fame, Maimon was cast as the lead in a local Tel Aviv production of “Evita,” where she was seen by a Broadway producer who brought her to star in “Chicago” on Broadway.

The musical, based on the 1926 Broadway play of the same name, is set in the Windy City of the 1920s with a tale of its corrupt criminal justice system told through the intertwined stories of two sexy murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, played by Maimon.

Shiri Maimon, center, as Roxie Hart in ‘Chicago,’ with her lawyer, Billy Flynn, during the premiere, March 7, 2019 performance in Tel Aviv (Courtesy Orit Pnini)

This production of “Chicago” played on Broadway briefly last fall but is primarily a traveling show that’s been making its way around the US, and now has come to Tel Aviv.

Maimon held her own among the cast of Americans, with her soft, innocent Roxie gaining a sheen of sophistication and cool cynicism after being jailed for killing her lover. The show pits Roxie against her prison colleague, Velma Kelly, the original celebrity in this particular prison.

The two battle it out and eventually end up hitting it off, finding that teamwork takes them further than fighting.

Shiri Maimon stars as Roxie Hart in the traveling Broadway production of ‘Chicago,’ now in Tel Aviv for 16 performances in March 2019 (Courtesy Orit Pnini)

Throughout the show, it’s nearly impossible to forget that Maimon is Israeli, with her accent peeking out frequently. Still, it’s clear she worked hard at conquering the English words of this musical as well as the smooth moves of the multiple dance routines.

She’s up against tough competition from some of her fellow cast members, including Terra MacLeod, who has played Velma Kelly many times, and fully occupies the character. Jennifer Fouche as Matron “Mama” Morton also brought the house down with her soaring voice and perfect timing.

But for a first-timer performing in a second language, Maimon does well, and her voice carries her character.

This version of “Chicago” is a relatively short, tight show, with the cast working their way around the orchestra, making it part of the play. Maimon and the rest of the cast are often situated at the very front of the stage, occasionally climbing a ladder or engaging members of the orchestra as part of the scene.

Shiri Maimon belting it out in the first Tel Aviv performance of ‘Chicago’ on March 7, 2019 (Courtesy Orit Pnini)

At the end of the two-hour show, with the cast still lined up onstage, actor Peter Lockyer, who plays lawyer Billy Flynn, raved about the Tel Aviv food and the welcome they’d received, and thanked Maimon for hosting them in her country.

Maimon then switched to Hebrew, although she had thrown in one “Shalom” earlier on in the show.

“Thank you so much to the producers who did so much so that it would look and sound like Broadway,” said Maimon.

For this audience, that much was true.

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