Young Las Vegas actress grabs attention after arriving from Israel


Kid's got it. ("It" being that undefinable, well ... "it.")

We know. "(So-and-so's) gonna be a star someday." Musty old trope. Occasionally true. Mostly, not. We'll stand by it.

"He's very kind and very nice," says 12-year-old, Israeli-born, Summerlin-living, Adelson Educational Campus-attending Almog Aybar Agron. "He," FYI, is Cameron Mackintosh -- the man with "Les Miserables," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats" on his business card, described by The New York Times as "the most successful, influential and powerful theatrical producer in the world" -- who invited her to a Los Angeles workshop of "Mary Poppins" that morphed into another of his Broadway mega-musicals.

"It was very special, but a little too business-y for me," says the little lady who knew zero English when she touched down in Sin City from Tel Aviv five years ago. "I don't act and sing for money. I act and sing for my soul."

Gotta love the lass. Community theater types do. "It's quite inspiring to have a 12-year-old talk with you about simplified Stanislavski," says Phil Shelburne, director of P.S. Productions, "then take the additional step and try to apply it."

Thespian tutorials ("101 Monologues for Middle School Actors" -- seriously) stacked on the floor of her room? Gifts from Shelburne, who directed gender-bending Almog as Charlie last summer in "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka" at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Her chocolaty star turn followed roles in Nevada Conservatory Theatre's "The Music Man" and Signature Productions' "The King and I."

Preternaturally wise, composed, polite and graced with a flat-out got-it-togetherness -- "she is more in tune with speaking directly than a lot of adults," Shelburne notes -- she might be a 30-year-old who willed herself to stop growing to get into the movies for half-price.

How did we swipe her from Tel Aviv?

"We came for vacation and we've found ourselves here for five years," says Almog's mom, Ilana -- Israeli accent predictably thicker than her daughter's -- who arrived here with Almog, younger daughter Yaara (now 8 and also a budding actress) and husband, Shlomy. "Israel is a beautiful, very loving place to live, but it's tense all around you. It was very cozy here, with nature all around you. We could calm down."

(Calm? Vegas? Compared to the Middle East, perhaps.)

After traveling throughout Europe -- where her daughters absorbed theater in bulk, explaining Almog's tin of worldwide ticket stubs -- the family found a welcoming community here, despite relentless headlines of roiling violence and contentious politics out of their home region. "In Europe, we did bump into angry people," Ilana Agron says. "But people here are supportive of Israel, so it was, 'Wow, you're from Israel!' "

Yet her mom also describes American attitudes as "conservative" by Israeli standards, notwithstanding critics' carping over our pop-culture vulgarity.

"They don't have everything rated, people are very open-minded," she says of Israel. "Here, you schedule everything, like play dates. There are movies they can and cannot see. It's like a list. I let them see whatever movies they want. I like giving them a way to choose their own way, between right and wrong."

Successfully, apparently. "My mom trusts me," Almog says. "It's a privilege."

Enrolled at Adelson -- and English-impaired, except for "Hello, my name is Almog" -- she was interested in pure singing before acting intruded. "I didn't find acting, acting found me," she says. "At the end of the second grade, I knew the language well, and they were doing 'Annie' in the school play, and I got to play Annie, and that's how I started."

Advancing into community theater, she gathered attention and admirers. "Almog is just a joy," says director Leslie Fotheringham, who worked with her in "The King and I" for Signature. "That's the kind of kid you want. If you could clone her, you're in good shape."

Emotional investment in her characters? "She's a great sponge," Shelburne says. "She's a thinker. You give her notes at night, a lot of people will shut off the clock when they walk out of rehearsal, but she stays up and works. It's amazing, the dedication and discipline."

Something, as they say, has gotta give. ... Doesn't it? "After rehearsals, I do my homework at 1 in the morning," Almog says. "Then I have to eat something."

Eventually, a visiting Mackintosh rep was struck by her polished onstage persona -- neither she nor her mom recall at which show -- earning an invitation from Mighty Mack. Flattered by the experience? Yes. Still, "we didn't want to do the whole New York thing," Ilana says.

Our "cozy" burg -- with the cultural life that is sometimes derided by Las Vegans themselves -- suits them fine. "We very much like downtown," Ilana says. Adds Almog: "I know a lot of kids my age think museums are boring, but I love them, especially art museums."

Curiously, she's not even sure acting is her career-in-waiting, also considering writing and composing. (She does both in what passes for spare time.)

Next onstage appearance? Cryptically, the little lady won't say, noting only that projects are lined up. Keep eyeing local stages for the next Almog sighting.

So, we expect, will a guy named Cameron.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@review journal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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