Friday, October 18, 2019
‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Explores Tradition that Cuts Across Barriers of Religion, Nationality and Class
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R.L. Rowsey is reveling in his role as the singing milkman.
 
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

R.L. Rowsey is not unlike Tevye, the compassionate, irrepressible dairyman who champions community and strives to find the positive even on days that aren’t the sunniest.

But ask him about his portrayal of the pious milkman with five daughters who are pushing the boundaries of modernism in “Fiddler on the Roof” and the first words out of his mouth involve his beard, which he has been letting grow beyond its well-coiffed boundaries.

 “I’m having a blast,” he said. “I first played Tevye when I was 17 and I grew a beard for the first time for that play. Of course, it was 10 percent beard and 90 percent eyelash makeup. Now, it’s a real beard.”

Rowsey and 44 other adults and children will perform “Fiddler on the Roof” for St. Thomas Playhouse  Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 19-22, at the Sun Valley Community School.

Slolem Aleichem wrote “Tevye and his Daughters,” on which the musical is based, in Yiddish. Set in Imperial Russia in 1905, it revolves around Tevye, who sings of life being as precarious as a fiddler perching on a roof.

He and daughter Tzeitel are at odds over whether she should follow tradition and marry whomever the village matchmaker picks out for her or whether she should be allowed to marry her childhood sweetheart Motel the tailor.

As father and daughter try to reach a satisfactory arrangement, another daughter falls in love with her teacher—a Bolshevik revolutionary. And—oy vey!—still another daughter falls in love with a gentile.

Even as Tevye fights to maintain tradition within his family, the threat of an anti-Semitic expulsion of Jews from his village threatens his family’s ability to follow its Jewish traditions.

“I’m Jewish and to me ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is the Mt. Rushmore of American musicals,” said Director Brett Moellenberg. “We wanted to have ‘Fiddler’ last year but it went on tour so they took the rights back. We’re so happy to finally get the opportunity to do it—it’s one of the best musicals ever written.”

Indeed, the music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick include some of the most familiar songs in Broadway history, including “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Tradition,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

Broadway icons Rodgers and Hammerstein and Mike Todd considered bringing it to Broadway but feared it might be too Jewish to attract mainstream audiences.

But audiences flocked to it. The Broadway production, which opened in the 1964, surpassed 3,000 performances and held the record for Broadway’s longest-running musical for 10 years until “Grease” danced past it.

The original production won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score and book. And it paved the way for five Broadway revivals.

“It has iconic music to which everyone in the audience can sing along,” said Rowsey, who served as the musical director for a national tour of “Fiddler.” “And it’s very relevant today. It deals with people who are about to leave home for all these different reasons. They’re people who are being forced to re-establish their lives.”

Cherie Kessler plays a down-to-business woman who’s got no time for humor given a husband with meager earnings.

“This play depicts people who are being made refugees as their town is ripped apart and they have to move on,” she said. “Life is tenuous when you’re an outsider. I come away from this feeling even more empathy for those ousted from home.”

The musical, which encompasses an intergenerational cast, also offers a clear message of family, said Melodie Mauldin, who portrays a long-gone grandmother who is alleged to have haunted Tevye in a dream.

“It’s a message of family, a message of understanding, respecting tradition and still allowing change,” she said.

Moellenberg said his own family has always loved the musical.

“Being raised in the Jewish faith, I remember growing up with this music. It’s also one of the first shows I saw on Broadway, and the scale of that production has stuck with me.”

IF YOU GO:

What: “Fiddler on the Roof”

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, through Sunday, Sept. 22; 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21 and 22.

Where; Sun Valley Community School Theatre

Tickets: $15 for those under 18; $25 for adults, available at www.stthomassunvalley.org or at 208-726-5349.

 

 

 

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