Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On Stage after 70

Just about every little girl prances in front of the mirror and imagines herself a star, enjoying the applause from her adoring audience. Razzle dazzle, thank you and you and you! Yet, I wonder how many little girls imagined themselves still on stage at 70 years old?
Forget 70. What about 90?

Sylvia Dombey is a feisty 91-year-old who made Aliya from Hendon, England, five years ago, because she didn’t want to paint her house and pull up her rugs. Really. Sylvia had performed for 20 years in England with her late husband for all kinds of organizations. They raised nearly 20,000 pounds for charity doing shows about the lives of famous performers, like Judy Garland, Rogers and Hammerstein, and the greatest of all Sophie Tucker.
“Sophie Tucker!” Sylvia declared, “People don’t even know who I’m talking about.”
Actually, I know exactly who she was talking about, because my grandfather, o’h, raised us on Sophie’s classic, “Some of these daysssssss. Ya gonna miss me, honey.”
Sylvia developed a love of performing at a young age. On Sunday visits to her grandparents, her grandfather used to ask her to “put on the alta kreckers”, the old record albums. “They used to crackle, you know!”
Upon Aliya, Sylvia performed her shows in Jerusalem’s AACI - Americans and Canadians in Israel. Then at 89, she retired from the stage, and today is busy with weekly programs at AACI, Hadassah book club and her grandchildren who live in Greater Jerusalem.
Sylvia proved that she’s still got it when she sang some of her classics over the phone to me. I couldn’t help but sing along.
Ruth as Nimrod on his throne.
Photo by www.imagesthroughtime.com.
Ruth Sager, 71.5, began on stage as a three-and-a-half-year-old ballerina. Toe dancing (ouch) at eight years old pushed her to other performing pursuits. “I didn’t realize as a young person, how much [performing] was part of my identity.”
Over the years she's done radio, cable TV, voice-overs, plus music and dance therapy workshops. There always seemed to be a performing opportunity – in Melbourne, Australia, Papua, New Guinea, Boston, Mass., and here in Israel where Ruth and her husband Mike moved in 1993.
She launched her Israeli acting career with a 48-hour-combustion play project with Rafi Poch, and her theater engine has been running ever since. Ruth’s speaking voice is simply unique. Last year in addition to her other on-stage characters, Ruth narrated the title song in Jerusalem's re-imagined  COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Avraham and Sara (which I co-created and co-produced with the amazing Avital Macales for The Women’s Performance Community of Jerusalem 2016 production with OU Israel). Nothing slows this girl down. Following on STARS’ heels, she started learning Improv with Debbie Hirsch, appeared in AACI’s Chana Senesh and in a recent Torah Live film.
Always expanding her horizons and ready to perform, Ruth said, “I think since 70, life has been really interesting for my husband and myself. We have a creative life. I feel in some ways that I’m only beginning.”

Netta, right in the center of the fun.
Netta deVriend, 71, was not a star struck youth yearning for the footlights. That didn’t keep her from joining the choir of JOSEPH and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2001 for the Raise Your Spirits theater company (which I founded because of the terror around us). “I saw the energy, the achdut (unity) and the beauty of it [despite the terror] going on. With the little ones and the big ones, everyone gave chizuk (strength) to each other, during that stage of our lives, having suffered quite a few losses [due to the terror] on the road, and it made me feel part of the community.”
Once Netta took her place on stage, she never left. She is one of the few performers who has appeared in every Raise Your Spirits production since JOSEPH.
Netta, who lived in Holland and Australia before her Aliya, said that not only does she not feel like 71 - 71 was her old elementary school teacher who wore grey dresses and kept her hair in a bun - she thinks she’s a better performer today than 16 years ago. “I don’t perform for money. I do it to make others happy, and because of the energy of the group. It’s something you don’t see anywhere else.”
Bakol, left, in a scene from THE LOST LIGHT.
Bakol Gellar. Bakol. With a name that congers up smoky-throated Lauren Bacall, of course, she’s got to be an actress. The performing bug bit Bakol at age five. She went to arts camp, and wanted to go to theatre school. She started a Jewish theater in Bloomington, Indiana (who would believe there were Jews in Indiana) and performed in America in Chaim’s Lovesong, playing the part of a Holocaust survivor who visited Israel and convinced her husband to make Aliya.
After Bakol made Aliya in 2009, the first thing she did was get a job doing dramatic readings of Shai Agnon stories in the Agnon House on holidays…then a play for Eli Kaplan Wildman at the Agnon House and Beit Avichai, several things for JEST (Jerusalem English Speaking Theater, which is no longer around), an historical re-enactment in honor of Hadassah’s 100th Anniversary, living museum characters at the Israel Museum, plus shows at the AACI, like A Little Night Music, the Yom HaShoa production Remember My Name, Avenue Q, an indie film, plus several episodes of Torah Live productions (on which I serve as production manager). She even filmed a TV pilot recently.
In her 70th year, Bakol’s still got the bug. She said, “If someone woke me up at 2 AM and said, ‘I have a part for you’, I would jump out of bed and do it. An actor acts and I hope I’ll be doing it until I literally can’t.”
Cheryl in DAMES. Photo by www.imagesthroughtime.com.
Cheryl Mandel is a go-go dancer. Okay, she’s not still a go-go- dancer, but her teenage go-go dance personality has never left her, even now as she turns 70. If you watched the weekly teen dance shows in Canada more than 50 years ago, you’d find Cheryl monkeying around. She’s still at it every Saturday night, as she ponies, twists and shimmies with women half her age. In fact, she leads the women across the dance floor half the time.
While she didn’t dance as a young mother, she returned to the stage in her 50s, when she cracked up audiences as a hairy Ishmaelite in Raise Your Spirits’ JOSEPH. She continued dancing while she croaked her way into her audiences’ hearts as a raven in the RYS productions NOAH! Ride the Wave! and then as a cackling slave in RUTH & NAOMI in the Fields of Bethlehem. It was during ESTHER and the Secrets in the King’s Court that Cheryl showed everyone what a powerful figure she was off stage, as well. Toward the end of the show's run, Cheryl's son, Daniel, HY”D, was killed in an IDF military operation. Since then she has devoted her life to doing good works to honor her son’s memory.
Cheryl took on a new challenge at age 60, when she created a dance-autobiography for DAMES of the DANCE (which I founded in 2007), and then expanded it to a movie autobiography. For the past 10 years, Cheryl has lit up the DAMES stage with her fantastically popular dance-theater numbers and kept her fellow dancers energized with her fun personality and wacky laugh. Cheryl said, “I love working with others in developing the idea, the choreography, the costumes and music, and then putting it together.  It’s a very big creative challenge.”
Cheryl has taken on three more challenges this year. She’s teaching a dance class for bereaved women through the One Family organization and feels “it’s one of the most significant things I’ve ever done.” She’s organizing a group of women for the adventure of a lifetime to India. And she’s now giving workshops called, THE DANCE OF COPING. For a fun time, call Cheryl, mandelcheryl@gmail.com. 😜, or you can contact her for an inspirational speaker, a wise woman and a role model.


  1. At 68 I'm a baby compared to those talented women you've featured. I've just begun returning to the stage, thanks to you. My bucket list is out there under the spotlight. Thanks, Sharon. Life is just beginning.

    1. Isn't it a wonderful affirmation to note that everyone who I spoke to said the same thing: life is just beginning. IY"H, it is.


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