Saturday, January 12, 2008

ברוך הבא לאבניו קיו

(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

On Thursday night we went to see the Hebrew version of Avenue Q in Tel Aviv.

feygele has posted some thoughts. Having seen the original version in New York, we had been wondering how they would translate the cultural references — how many Israelis have heard of Gary Coleman? And the answer is that they replaced American cultural references that Israelis wouldn’t get with Israeli cultural references that we (as North American expats) didn’t get. Instead of Gary Coleman (played by a woman in the New York production), Avenue Q’s va’ad habayit [sic] was headed up by Michal Yannai, played by herself in a comeback role. As best we can tell, Michal Yannai is the Israeli equivalent of Gary Coleman: a former child TV star with a checkered history. The Israeli version of Avenue Q is still in New York (the sign on the front says “FOR RENT” in English, and the Empire State Building is still the Empire State Building), and the (American) characters have inexplicably heard of Michal Yannai, who is pursuing acting roles in the US, until the end when she decides to go back to Israel. The puppet characters are all the same as in the American version (including Katie-fletzet and Trekkie-fletzet, based on Oogie-fletzet, the Israeli version of Cookie Monster), but Christmas Eve (a Japanese character who speaks Engrish) has been replaced by Latina (that’s her name). We hypothesized that this is because a stereotyped Asian character may have hit a nerve for Israeli audiences, because of all the current issues with Thai and Filipino guest workers in Israel. In several instances when Latina sings solos, the music suddenly turns into salsa-style. Latina and Trekkie Monster both speak in ungrammatical Hebrew, botching gender agreement, and using infinitives instead of conjugated verbs (”אני לעשות”, etc.)

The songs, of course, have all been translated into Hebrew. “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” has become “תואר ראשון, זה נחמד… בשביל אמא” (”A bachelor’s degree, that’s nice … for Mom”). Instead of reading a book about Broadway musicals of the 1940s, Rod is reading a book about Eurovision, and the ensuing song, “If You Were Gay”, may contain the best line of the show: “אם הלב בחר / במשכב זכר”. Lines like this, permeated with biblical and rabbinic references that have become part of the everyday language, convinced me that the Israeli Avenue Q is the true culmination of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s achievement. I mean, the translation of “The Internet is for porn / The Internet is for porn” was “האינטרנט זה פשוט / גן עדן של אוננות”, which contains not one but two references to Sefer Bereishit.

We also cracked up at the wedding scene, which the Israeli audience didn’t seem to notice anything odd about. I don’t remember the ritual details of the American version, but this one was a strange mix of American and Jewish wedding customs. The male humans and puppets were all wearing white kippot, and Brian and Latina entered the chuppah to the tune of “Here Comes the Bride”. Michal Yannai officiated, wearing a black hat, jacket, and tie. She pronounced them husband and wife, Latina broke the glass, and everyone shouted “Mazal tov!”. As they left to go check out the buffet, Yannai said “Is it kosher?” and Latina said “No. Sorry.”

"I Wish I Could Go Back to College" became "תנו לי לחזור לבית-ספר" ("Let me go back to school"). As I understand it, בית-ספר generally refers to elementary and secondary school, not to college/university. We're guessing that this change was necessary for the Israeli version because Israelis don't think of university as an idyllic return to the womb -- it's something they do after the army, when they're already (relatively) independent adults.

Oh, and the untranslatable “one nightstand” gag was left out entirely.

If you’re in Israel, go see it now! It’s playing on Sunday night at Beit Lessin, and then moving to the Jerusalem Theater for performances on January 17 and 19.


  1. The wedding scene was the same over here, I think. I don't remember the kosher line, but the rest of it was definitely the same (with Gary Coleman officiating, of course.)

  2. I wonder what party Rod belongs to now. Not all Israelis know about the American party of moralizing businessmen, and I don't see any equivalent in Israel!