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Full Circle

Composer's fascination with Masada leads to a musical version


by Naomi Pfefferman

December 10, 1998 | 7:00 pm

"Phantom," "Les Mis," and now... "Masada: The Musical."

"Masada" is based on the mass suicide of 967 Jews who preferred death to enslavement by the Romans who had held their desert mountaintop fortress under siege.

Creator Shuki Levy isn't your typical Broadway composer. He's a former Israeli rock 'n' roller who made a name for himself composing themes for cartoons and TV shows (like "Alf") and as the co-creator of the "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers."

About five years ago, Levy says, he wearied of just writing commercial music for other people's projects. He embarked upon "Masada," a topic that has obsessed him since he first visited the desert mountaintop in the fourth grade. "I wanted to create something from my heart; something I could really feel," explains Levy, who received his first guitar on his bar mitzvah and taught himself to play because his family couldn't afford lessons.

By age 16, Levy founded one of the first rock bands in Israel, the Telstars. His current business partner at Saban Entertainment, Haim Saban, was the manager of the rival band, Ariyot. The two didn't team up, however, until after Levy had left Israel for London, where he washed dishes in a working-man's diner before he began selling millions of albums as part of a pop duo.

Saban became Levy's manager and then his partner after the two moved to L.A. in the 1980s. They decided to turn a cheesy old Japanese action hero TV show into an American kids' program. "Haim ran around town with our pilot for seven years, and people made fun of us," Levy recalls. The laughter stopped when Fox picked up the program, now avidly watched by 300 million children weekly.

Nevertheless, Levy felt his career was incomplete until he began "Masada," which features lyrics by Shell Danielson and "Phantom" star Davis Gaines as the doomed Jewish leader Eleazer Ben Yair.

For tickets to "Masada," a musical staged reading that benefits D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), Dec. 15 only, call (800) 447-7400.

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