Making a Splash

Hanoch Rosenn Brings His Hit Show to the Rio After a Fifteen-Year Run in Eilat, Israel

By Lynn Wexler

There is no shortage of spectacle to revel in while visiting Sin City. Pick your passion. Serve your fantasy. Delight in divas, dancers, and divers; high-wire contortionists, jokesters, and magicians; luxurious costumery, innovative visuals, and music reticulations.

WOW, Wonders Of Water, is the newest addition to the genre. It opens this month at the Rio Showroom at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. A 90-minute, water-themed, intense extravaganza, WOW takes theatregoers on a circus-style dream sequence, weaving dance, comedy, acrobatics, illusion, romance, and even treachery through a choreographed narrative, heightened by 3D multi-media projections and holograms.

Damian Costa, Caesars Entertainment - Vice President of Entertainment Operations Las Vegas (which owns the Rio), says WOW will be unlike any production Las Vegas has experienced. “Audiences will be captivated by the splendor of stand-out visual elements, water effects, and a breathtaking cast of performers.”

Hanoch Rosenn is the genius behind the internationally acclaimed production. He is also the show’s director.

“For more than 15 years we continue to successfully present WOW in Eilat, Israel with a new incarnation of the show every year,” he says. “I have always felt the show was perfect for Las Vegas, so I am thrilled to bring it to North American audiences, with the premiere at Rio.”

Born in London and raised in Israel, Rosenn’s venture into the world of entertainment began in silence.

“I started out as a mime. I still do it and tour – not at the moment of course – in a show called Speechless,” says Rosenn.

“My father was an interpreter and spoke ten languages. He was involved with the Eichmann trial. It’s possible I grew up with so much language that I decided I wanted to speak with no words,” he says with a glint in his eye, leaving you to wonder if he’s pulling your leg.

“Actually, when I was 16, I traveled through Europe with friends on $5 a day – when this was even possible,” he continues. “We found ourselves broke in Munich and turned to street performance to make money. None of us could speak German so we had to entertain without words!”

They were an instant success. Money poured in and they built a reputation and a following throughout much of Europe.

Upon his return to Israel at age 18 for mandatory military service, he was assigned the duty of IDF Mime. “No joke. That’s what was on my military ID. I entertained the troops!” he says. It’s also where he developed the unique style that permeates his performances and stage productions.

Over time, Rosenn’s shows became increasingly elaborate, as did his flair for creating, designing, producing, and directing stage spectacle. He learned to incorporate fantasy, imagery, digitally enchanced backdrops, music, special effects, and storylines - with surprises.

“My shows, including WOW, are intended to engage each audience member personally and individually,” says Rosenn. “From the music to the lighting to the sets, choreography and costumes…the experience is designed to evoke childhood memories as well as provide a peek into the future you imagine for yourself.”

Rosenn uses the stage to offer not only pageantry and parody, but to hold up a mirror for theatergoers to view whatever piercing observations they wish to reflect upon – all conjured through humor, intrigue, and special effects manipulation.

To accomplish this “…WOW performers and imagery are in close proximity to the audience for much of the show, which is fast paced, at times funny, whimsical, daring - but always accessible to the heart and mind.

“Water is life! WOW is a journey through a moment in the life of a fisherman, trapped in the doldrums, who falls asleep by the water’s edge,” Rosenn reveals.

The fisherman awakens to find an intoxicating mermaid who draws him into a fantastical world of magical creatures, which transpire from the twenty-five vastly different ensuing acts offering adventure, escape, and ultimately, enlightenment.

“Guests will come to love the characters,” Rosenn adds. “They will want to reach out and hug them. It’s a family show so why not? You can even bring your three-year-old if he or she will sit quietly!”

And hug them you can – and even get their autographs. The cast of more than 30 international and highly acclaimed performing artists, acrobats, dancers - even dare-devil finalists from TV’s America’s Got Talent - join the audience following each performance for photos, questions, and of course, those much-anticipated hugs.

Mounting the show is not without its challenges. “The goal is always to determine how to utilize resources to win the room!” says Rosenn.

While the entire creative team is from the production in Eilat, Rosenn enlisted the local expertise of Keith Wright, former Operations Production Manager for Ka and now Regional Technical Director for Caesar’s ten entertainment properties in Las Vegas.

“There are rules – especially for safety – specific to Las Vegas concerning fire, electricity, aerial acts and so on. Keith has navigated this path for us, as well as recommended local equipment providers that we could not efficiently identify on our own,” says Rosenn.

Then there was the matter of the stage. In Israel, the show takes place on a traditional proscenium arch.

“Here, it is somewhat circular, at 180 degrees, with seating very close to the action,” explains Rosenn.

“We had to build a pool that could drain dry and fill up as needed; build surround LED panels that integrate the real and imagined scenery and action; and incorporate sound and light all meant to create an environment that wraps around the audience, making them a part of the show’s magic,” he continues.

The theatre seats 650. The space, according to Rosenn, is actually conducive to the intimacy that is the show’s intended effect.

Shay Bonder heads up WOW’s extensive and integral video art. “I work daily with a team of 25 talented individuals who send me the spectacular images I need from around the world,” he says.

Ram Graufman is the show’s sound engineer and describes himself as a sound sculptor. “There is a psychology to how one manipulates sound to deliver the emotions of storytelling,” he shares. The music runs the gamut from classical to modern to Italian, Irish, Russian, and even pirate shanties.

Avi Yona Bueno brings to the show forty years of award-winning experience as a lighting designer. “I started out doing lighting for rock ‘n roll bands. I traveled with Pink Floyd for years.”

Bueno explains: “Lighting elevates a show. It unifies the individual creative aspects, yielding something that is ultimately bigger than any one of those elements on their own.” Through lighting, he adds, “I can create beauty, fear, control emotions, and even hide mistakes in the show.”

Of the thirty plus performers and fifty plus production people necessary to rehearse, mount, market and run the show, Rosenn is the maestro at center stage, conducting the myriad of moving parts with the finesse of a virtuoso and the patience of a saint.

“You have to play many roles. One of them is a psychologist,” says Rosenn. There are many egos and fragilities to be aware of. You must balance critique with sensitivity. Humor with no nonsense. Lightness with firmness,” he adds.

When asked about comparisons to the Cirque brand, Rosenn is quick to reply with gratitude. He is a huge devotee of Cirque creative directors Franco Dragone and Guy Caron. “I love their productions!” he says.

He explained that Cirque productions are poetic, ethereal, and approach the theme of water spectacle differently than WOW. “WOW involves the audience in an intimate experience. It draws them close and wraps the story around them, as if the story was about them,” he explains.

Rosenn is also renowned worldwide for another large-scale extravaganza called Festigal. Founded in 1981, Festigal is Israel’s largest annual entertainment spectacle and takes place each year during Hanukkah. “It’s for the whole family and is all about imagination. Each year presents a different theme. We’re always working to out-do ourselves,” says Rosenn. In the 2008 version, he did, directing Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot in her stage debut. 

Rosenn is thrilled that over 2.5 million people from around the world have seen WOW at its home in Eilat. “We’re now looking forward to Las Vegas becoming our second home,” he says.

“We want audiences from around the world, looking to experience world class sizzle and sensation – to come to WOW, feel moved, uplifted, changed, and return home talking about it long after they leave the Strip,” Rosenn muses.

He and the whole creative team are especially proud to bring WOW to Las Vegas from Israel. “We are hopeful that Jewish communities everywhere will see the show and share that pride with us,” he says. “Or should I say…share with us the thrill of being WOWED!”

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