The Rita show in Rio de Janeiro this February
Only Rita could have pulled it off. Her famous "One" concert was the first time any Israeli recording artist has attempted such an extravagant, multimedia performance. With its crew of 50 tumbling dancers, grandiose costumes, pyrotechnics and video art, the $5 million production looked like it came right off the Las Vegas Strip.
Last summer's show at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center, which took its inspiration from Céline Dion's year-round Caesar's Palace concert, "A New Day," drew close to 100,000 fans over a period of one month. That's a lot of concertgoers for a country with a population of some 7 million, especially considering the concert was held during the height of the second Lebanon War.
"It was like a miracle," said Rita, who much like Madonna and Cher eschews her last name. "It was a huge success."
The concert proved that after 25 years on the stage, Rita is Israel's most beloved diva. And at 45, the daring performer shows no signs of slowing down.
This month, Rita has something more intimate planned for Angelenos. Only 500 tickets are available for her June 5 performance at the American Jewish University's (formerly the University of Judaism) Gindi Auditorium.
"My desire in bringing Rita to this location, as opposed to a larger venue which we could have easily sold, is to provide people the unique opportunity to experience an intimate evening with one of Israel's best," said Gady Levy, dean and vice president of the AJU's department of continuing education. "What I believe Rita does best is connect with her audience during a show. The close, informal setting will allow her to connect with the audience even more."
The Tehran-born singer, known for her passionate love ballads, already enjoys a built-in Los Angeles fan club. After the Islamic revolution in Iran in the late 1970s, most of her family in Iran split between Israel and Los Angeles, and she maintains close ties with her Los Angeles family, not to be confused with her Jewish fans abroad, who she also terms "family."
Born in 1962, Rita Yahan-Farouz dreamed of performing from the time she was 4, when she sang into a microphone at her uncle's engagement party, while standing on a chair.
"While singing, I remember it very clearly ... very, very, very clearly.... I knew that that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt like I was home," she said.
Her Zionist father felt it was time to pack their bags in 1970 after Rita's sister came home crying because she refused to recite a Muslim prayer at school. The singer moved to Israel with her family at age 8.
As a teenager in Israel, Rita worked her way through dance school, acting school and voice lessons. The day after performing one of her singles for the Israeli Pre-Eurovision Song Contest, the Persian beauty was mobbed on the bus by new fans.
"It was a Cinderella story," she said. "I didn't know that it became that I could never go on a bus again. I got out after two stations. The entire bus was on me, touching and asking, and I didn't know what happened. It was strange, very strange, very new, very frightening."
But Rita didn't set out to be the Israeli idol she is today.
"You don't think big," she said. "You're innocent. It's not like now that everyone sees all these contests, like 'American Idol.' It's much more something that burns inside of you that you want to sing to people -- you don't think about big success, fame, nothing like that. It's much deeper."
Rita is flattered by her comparison to Canadian American legend Celine Dion, although when asked who her American idols are, she answers with little hesitation: "Beyonce. I don't know whether to kiss or hit her because she's amazing. She's really something. She sings, she dances. I like very much the last record of Christian Aguilera."
She counts Kate Bush and Barbra Streisand among her earlier influences for their multifaceted talents.
Of Dion she said, "I think [she] has a great voice -- a great, great voice -- but I never sat and cried when I heard her." Nevertheless, it's hard to deny the similarities.
As a thespian, Rita has starred in Israel's stage musicals of "My Fair Lady" and "Chicago." Despite the occasional provocative, sexy dress, Rita, a mother of two (Meshi, 15, and Noam, 6) radiates a pure, "put together" image.
Rita married her teenage sweetheart, singer-songwriter Rami Kleinstein, who has written, arranged and produced many of her albums and who has performed at American Jewish University in the past. Their musical marriage is one of the most celebrated and enduring in Israel.
Rita's attempt to break into the international market was cut short, in part, by her commitment to her family. She became pregnant with her second daughter while on tour in Europe promoting her English album, "A Time for Peace," which sold just 20,000 copies.
"I think this is a very important decision to make," she said. "I decided that I didn't want to be famous and miserable when I come home alone. That's why I had to decide that my main career will be in one place, so I could build a family with children and a husband."
Old-school Rita at Eurovision 1990