From almost-front-row-seats at an exclusive open air Theater-in-the-Round near Washington, D.C., shortly before it hit Broadway years ago, Janice and I were entranced by the performance of Theodore Baykal, the original “Fiddler on the Roof.” We’ve been “Fiddler” fans ever since.
Saturday, thanks to an invitation by Peninsula High Theatre and Music Department director Kara Beloate, that same thrill was rekindled in the school’s Milton S. Boyd Performing Arts Center, where I was welcomed as an almost-member-of-the-cast at the dress rehearsal of “Fiddler.”
You, too, can experience this exultation May 4, 5, 6, 12, 13 at 7 p.m. and May 7 at 3 p.m at PHS.
“This play has taught me the importance of honoring someone else’s culture,” said junior Sarah Nicholson.
“Fiddler on the Roof,” set in a different time and place, still resonates today. Its universal themes cut across barriers of race, class, nationality and religion, leaving audiences crying tears of laughter, joy and sadness. It’s an adaptation of the stories of Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916), often called the “Mark Twain of Yiddish storytelling,” whose pseudonym (his real name was Sholom Rabinowitz) means “Peace be with you.” Set in 1905 in a little Jewish community in Tzarist Russia, it centers around poor milkman, Tevye, his wife Golde, and their five daughters.
Faced with growing anti-Semitism and fear cast across his village of Anetevka, Teyve is forced to adapt to the will of his daughters, who challenge the tradition of arranged marriage. Tevye’s patience and faith are tested. He questions his ability to endure, proclaiming, “If I bend that far, I will break.” A father, a husband, a child of God, a human being, there is a bit of Tevye in all of us making his struggle more heartwarming — and heartbreaking.
To lead dancer, senior Michaela Tyler, “Learning about Jewish culture is very eye-opening, especially with the struggles they went through. To be a part of this show you have to be emotionally connected, which is why this show is amazing. It is about tradition and family values. It’s fun, exciting, and also has a sadness. I’m so excited to be a part of it.”
Senior Gary Demmert, master carpenter/technician, feels, “This entire theatre community is just so inclusive. I feel like this is the most accepting place in the school. We have worked tirelessly to put on a great show.”
The Fiddler, junior Gabe Fobes, declared, “This show has taught me that there is nothing I won’t do for this arts program — including learning to play the violin.”
Said senior Stevie Swartz, scenic painter/art director, “I have learned how powerful an ensemble is as a part of the stage and how theatre really bonds diverse people. Our cast has put so much life into this show — and the art’s not half bad either!”
“Being in ‘Fiddler’ has helped open my eyes to the pain experienced throughout history due to persecution,” said ensemble member Samantha Moore. “I was aware that it’s always been an issue — after all, I take history classes — but this play shed a light on the culture of Eastern Europe. Not a single person will not benefit from viewing this. Everyone can learn something, not only about the Jewish culture or Russia or theatre, but about themselves.”
Winner of nine Tony Awards in 1964, “Fiddler” was the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances; it is Broadway’s 16th longest-running show and one of the most widely produced in community and high school theaters in the world. Written over 50 years ago, it connects today’s world with aching humanity, forced emigration, persecuted people driven from their homelands in search of dignity and hope and reminds us that, regardless of our differences, we all laugh, we all cry, and we all love.
Freshman Joanna Roberts has gained so much confidence and found a new comfort in being on stage. “I’ve learned about hard work, Jewish culture, musical aspects and making new friends,” she said. “In ‘Fiddler’ there is so much to relate to, relationships, traditions, freedom, moving, and so many aspects of life. It captures and turns into an emotional and musical experience.”
Senior Hailey Carr can relate to the ending of this musical because “I too will be leaving a place that I have called home. I’m going off to college next year and the normalcy of my life will be changed forever. This heartwarming musical will expand audience knowledge of what life was like for Jews living in Russia in 1905.”
“‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is as heart-wrenching as it is funny,” said Beloate. “This has been an incredible journey, watching students connect with the humanity of this story, with the themes of family, love, loss and, the greatest gift, resiliency. Our students surprise us every day.”
Tickets for reserved seating can be purchased at the theater box office Wednesdays/Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or Saturdays 10 a.m. to noon. General seating can be pre-purchased online or at the door an hour and a half before showtimes; $10 for seniors, students and military, and $12 for general adult.
Please don’t miss it!! It’s inspiring!
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.