Paul Kane mounts Broadway classic
Fiddler on the Roof as relevant as ever
Saturday, Jan 04, 2014 06:00 am
Paul Kane Musical Theatre
Jan. 8 to 10
Tickets: $15 Call 780-459-4405
Fiddler on the Roof is among the greatest of Broadway musicals for a variety of reasons. It has rich, funny characters, a meditative plot and a score without a single clunker.
Who can forget the rousing If I Was a Rich Man? Time will never diminish the strength of that song. After all, aren’t we all waiting to win the big lottery?
Money aside, Fiddler is a musical of remarkable depth requiring brilliant acting and dancing plus heartfelt musicianship.
And it’s ours to enjoy as the Paul Kane musical theatre program mounts Fiddler On the Roof from Jan. 8 to 10 at the Arden Theatre.
Based on Sholem Aleichem stories, the original 1964 production featured music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. The award-winning production was so popular it ran for nearly 10 years.
Fiddler is an affectionate and funny look at life in a Jewish village in Tsarist Russia. It centres on Tevye, a milkman-philosopher who finds his traditional religious values challenged by daughters who insist on following their hearts instead of their father’s dictates.
On a broader scale, the Russian landscape is changing as tough laws are enforced on Jews. The pogroms are on the horizon and many Jews are fleeing to find peace and safety in America.
“It’s scary how relevant it is to today,” says drama director Lisa Whitson. “It focuses on family values and tradition, but it also brings in a new-age philosophy. Although there are old classic traditions, there are issues that happen all around the world today. It’s nice for the kids to get a sense of serious world issues and that’s still relevant nowadays.”
Numbering 57 cast members with an additional 20 students working as tech and design support, Fiddler is the largest production Whitson has directed.
But among this huge cast, Tevye is the glue that holds the story together. For this very real man with a big heart and complex spirit, Whitson has cast Grade 12 student Kieran Murphy, son of triple-threat performer Kieran Martin Murphy, to play the role.
Of his character, Murphy says, “Tevye is an incredibly deep character. He’s a man who has five daughters and his daughters are breaking away. In the song Tradition you see the basis and foundation of everything he’s ever known.”
For most actors, it’s an honour to be cast as Tevye. Ironically, even though theatre is big in the family, Murphy was never interested in it until Grade 9.
“I was exposed to theatre and knew how it worked. It was Dad’s thing,” he said.
But Murphy received his introduction to theatre in a bit part for the hugely-successful opera parody The PreTenors. His role was that of a delivery boy handing over a pizza to the great tenor Luciano Paparazzi.
“I want to follow in my dad’s footsteps and make a blockbuster movie. I want to do a little bit of everything and not be held down to any one outlet.”
Since Grade 10 he’s acted in seven shows. His roles have included Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, Own in Charades and Dracula’s assistant in Dracula.
Tevye is by far the richest character.
“He’s so set in his ways yet only his daughters can change his mind. He loves his family so much and would do anything for them.”
There is a huge gulf between Murphy and the turn of the 20th century Tevye. To give his character credibility, Murphy researched Russian’s political history as well as Jewish religious customs and culture. But he also borrowed from his father.
“He loves me so much. Both parents love me so much. They might be upset with me, but they are always very supportive.”
In reflecting on Fiddler’s strength’s, Murphy cites “an amazing live orchestra” and “a stellar cast.”
Whitson is equally effusive in praising her cast. Of Frankie Mulder playing Golda, Tevye’s wife, Whitson says, “Frankie always has a sense of maturity. She’s always up for whatever you throw at her. She can deal with Tevye and calm him down.”
Kate Wightmore, who plays Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel, also displays layers and subtleties.
“She’s the first daughter to go against Tevye when she falls in love with the poor tailor. She stands up to her father. Kate has grown up a lot and she’s really developed her acting skills. She plays a free spirit, a light-hearted young woman while still being head of her siblings.”
Lindsay Davidson’s Hodel, the second daughter, falls in love with a teacher.
“He’s a revolutionary and speaks against tradition. He gets arrested because he speaks out against the Tsar and goes to Siberia. She follows him. Lindsay is a great vocalist, performer and dancer and she combines the three threads quite well.”
And Sophie Healey, in her first major role, plays Chava, the younger daughter who wishes to marry a Russian soldier outside the Jewish faith.
“It’s a slap in the face to the father – to marry outside the religion. He does not give permission. He shuns her from the family and tells her ‘You are dead.’ Chava comes back, but he’s not ready to forgive her. It’s a very sombre end to the show.”
But in addition to the sadness and poignancy of losing something precious, the musical is a gem filled with the humour and energy of a people determined to persevere despite the hurdles facing them.
“I hope the warmth and love of this family comes through,” Whitson says. “There are many social and cultural issues to deal with, but you can respect the people you love while letting them follow their own heart. There are many things going on including fun and humour.”