On Stage: Even after more than 50 years, Fiddler still relevant to today’s issues

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Fiddler on the Roof

There is a lot to like about 3-D movie theaters, home viewing of an endless array of television series and the immediate access of music videos.

Still, nothing can compare to a live theater performance of a timeless play or a hit musical.

This week, area theater fans have an opportunity to enjoy live performances of two Broadway hit shows that are out on National Tour – “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and “Spamalot” at the Playhouse on Rodney Square in Wilmington, Delaware. Both shows have been around for a while and both are presented in new productions.

“Fiddler on the Roof,” which is part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia Series” will run from October 23-28 at the “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Academy of Music at the Academy of Music Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org).

One of the main themes in the timeless hit musical “Fiddler on the Roof” is tradition and, for many theater fans, the act of seeing “Fiddler on the Roof” has become tradition.

The tradition continues as a new National Tour is now thrilling theater fans across the country. The show is about Jewish people, but it really is a universal story about families. It’s a very timeless, identifiable story no matter what religion people are.

Tony®-winning director Bartlett Sher and the team behind “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and 2017 Tony-winning Best Play “Oslo,’ bring a fresh and authentic vision to this beloved theatrical masterpiece from Tony winner Joseph Stein and Pulitzer Prize winners Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.

The show features a talented cast, lavish orchestra and stunning movement and dance from Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter and is based on the original staging by Jerome Robbins.

Israeli film and TV star Yehezkel Lazarov leads the production as Tevye alongside Maite Uzal as Golde, Jonathan Von Mering as Lazar Wolf, Carol Beaugard as Yente, Mel Weyn as Tzeitel, Ruthy Froch as Hodel, Natalie Powers as Chava, Danielle Allen as Sphintze, Emerson Glick as Bielke, Jesse Weil as Motel, Ryne Nardecchia as Perchick, Joshua Logan Alexander as Fyedka, and Jeffrey Brooks as Constable.

‘This new production does a great job of making it real,” said Weyn, during a phone interview last week from Syracuse, New York.

“We’ve been doing tech rehearsals this week after a month-and-a-half of rehearsals. We have a preview tomorrow night at the Landmark Theater here in Syracuse and then we come to Philadelphia. It’s exciting to open the tour in Philly.”

The musical, which is based on Sholom Aleichem’s short story “Tevye’s Daughters,” is set in 1905 in Anatevka, a small Ukrainian Jewish village in Russia. It tells the story of Tevye, his wife Golde and three of their daughters — Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava.

It is about Tevye, a poor milkman, and his struggle to preserve family values and traditions in a world where persecution and poverty have taken over. It tells the story of Tevye’s attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions during challenging times.

His three older daughters are headstrong and willing to challenge tradition with their choices of husbands — Tzeitel with a poor young man from the village, Hodel with an idealistic freedom fighter and Chava with a Russian soldier.

The show first opened on Broadway in the mid-sixties. The inaugural performance took place on September 22, 1964 at the Imperial Theatre. The show was moved to the Majestic Theatre 1967 and to The Broadway Theatre in 1970. It ran for a record-setting total of 3,242 performances and was the first musical theater run in history to surpass 3,000 performances.

In 1965, “Fiddler on the Roof” captured nine Tony Awards and was the winner of the 1965 New York Drama Critic Award for Best Musical.

Over the years, the play has had numerous national tours and runs in New York — and was also turned into a movie. Four actors have become permanently identified with the role of Tevye — Zero Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, Topol and Theodore Bikel.

“The show has great larger-than-life characters,” said Weyn. “Bartlett, the director, wanted it to be set in reality – what these people were thinking and feeling. It really focuses on the storytelling.

Even though the show has been around for more than a half-century, it surprisingly is still topical — still in line with things going on in the world in 2018. With all the spousal abuse cases making headlines these days, more attention is being focused on women’s rights. In the show, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava were fighting in their own way for women’s rights at the start of the 20th century.

“There are many timeless themes in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ – family, community, where you come from,” said Weyn. “It does a great job of looking at roots.

“This show was the first form of theater that was depicting the Jewish way of life without making fun of it. I’m really honored to be a part of it – to learn about Jewish culture and tradition.”

Even people who have never seen “Fiddler on the Roof” are still familiar with the show’s music as a number of the songs have become easy listening standards — songs such as “Tradition”, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, “Sunrise, Sunset” and, of course, “If I Were A Rich Man”.

“It’s really easy to just sing the songs but we were told that the songs should ask questions,” said Weyn. ‘The directors really pointed us to go there. For example, they want us to ask the question – what is it like to have an arranged marriage?

“Everything about this production is beautiful – the singing, the costumes, the dancing, the lighting. And, there is this new concept of focusing on storytelling. It’s about the relationships between the characters in the show.”

Video link for “Fiddler on the Roof” —https://youtu.be/iL09UjQD4lA.

The show at the Academy of Music will run from October 23-28. Tickets prices range from $25-$139.

Spamalot

From October 25-28, The Playhouse on Rodney Square (10th and Market streets, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-888-0200, www.thegrandwilmington.org) is opening its 2018-2019 season by hosting the National Tour of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Monty Python, a zany group of British comedians, made being silly not only an art form but also a source of great financial success. Monty Python’s commercial empire includes record albums (including a three-sided single album), television series, videos, books, CDs, movies – and a hit Broadway musical called “Monty Python’s Spamalot”.

The musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot” is a side-splitting comedy that is billed as being “lovingly ripped off from the film classic “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.”

The National Tour’s cast features Steve McCoy (King Arthur), Leslie Jackson, (The Lady of the Lake), Adam Grabau (Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, King Ni, Tim the Enchanter), Kasidy Devlin (Sir Robin, Guard 1, Brother May) and Troy Bruchwalski (Sir Dennis Galahad, The Black Knight, Prince Herbert’s Father).

The lively comedy was the winner of three Tony Awards in 2005, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical, and the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. The Broadway success spawned a national tour – actually, a succession of National Tours.

“This is actually the Third National Tour,” said Devlin, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Utica, New York.

“I was in the cast of the Second National Tour four years ago. I was with the cast for three years total. We retired the show for five years because we had played everywhere.”

“Monty Python’s Spamalot” features a book by former Monty Python member Eric Idle and music and lyrics by the Grammy Award-winning team of Idle and John Du Prez.

“This production has brand new direction and brand-new choreography,” said Devlin, who grew up in Pennsylvania’s “Coal Region” and studied at Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Humboldt County, California.

“This show has good music. The songs in ‘Spamalot’ are interesting. The show is like an English music hall theater production. Eric Idle is a pretty good writer. That’s why everybody knows ‘Spamalot’.”

The outrageous musical farce tells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they embark on their quest for the Holy Grail. Most audience members will know to be on the lookout for flying cows, killer rabbits and taunting Frenchmen.

“‘Spamalot’ brings in people who don’t normally go to the theater,” said Devil. “I see children from age five and up come to see the show dressed in costume with their parents and grandparents. I first saw ‘Spamalot’ as a boy in 2005 — with the original cast.

“I was also a huge fan of the movie when I was growing up. When I was eight, we rented the video of ‘Holy Grail.’ I was worried that it would be changed in the musical – that it wouldn’t be true to Monty Python.

“It is true to Python but it isn’t just a rehashing of the film. It is a new piece with new music. There are expanded storylines for the characters – with a real Monty Python base.”

Like any Monty Python project, “Spamalot” induces a lot of laughter.

“I’ve done 420 performances,” said Devlin. “At the end of the day, it’s just a funny show. Today, with things as divisive as they are, it’s great to have a show that us just a funny show.

“It’s really simple stupid humor by Monty Python — six of the smartest actors in the world. This show has a lot of heart to it. It’s a show that does make you feel warm and happy.”

Video link for “Spamalot” – https://youtu.be/zgPtq4k6Psc.

The show at The Playhouse on Rodney Square will run from October 25-28. Ticket prices range from $40-$90.

There is another option for live theater in northern Delaware this week.

The Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302-475-2313www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is offering area fans the opportunity to see a rarely-presented musical theater classic. The dinner theater’s production of “Brigadoon” is running now through October 28.

“Brigadoon” is a well-loved Broadway musical that had its debut on the Great White Way in March 1947 at the Ziegfeld Theatre, where it ran for 581 performances. Songs from the musical, such as “Almost Like Being in Love,” have become standards.

But, “Brigadoon” is a show that is relatively unfamiliar to the last few generations of theater fans. The last time it was staged on Broadway was 1980. The show’s most recent National Tour was in 1992. A Cinemascope film version of Brigadoon was released by MGM in 1954 with Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, and Cyd Charisse in leading roles.

The story involves two American tourists who stumble upon Brigadoon, a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every 100 years. The main characters are the tourists – Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas – and Fiona MacLaren, a beautiful lass from the village.

Tommy and Jeff, a pair of New Yorkers, have travelled to the Scottish Highlands on vacation and get lost on their first night out. They begin to hear music coming from a nearby village that does not appear on their map of the area. They head over to the source of the music and are greeted by villagers dressed in traditional Scottish tartan.

Andrew MacLaren and his daughters arrive at the fair to purchase supplies for younger daughter Jean’s wedding to Charlie Dalrymple. After a short while, the two friends learn the story of Brigadoon – a story that starts with an event that took place two centuries in the past.

In an effort to protect Brigadoon from being changed by the outside world, the local minister prayed to God 200 years ago to have Brigadoon disappear, only to reappear for one day every 100 years. All citizens of Brigadoon are forbidden to leave the town, or it will disappear forever.

Not surprisingly, Tommy falls in love with Fiona and the story begins to get complicated.

Video link for “Brigadoon” — https://youtu.be/JKRIFbnO2MQ.

Performances at the Candlelight Theatre this weekend are Friday and Saturday evening (doors 6 p.m./show, 8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoon (doors, 1 p.m./show, 3 p.m.). Tickets, which include dinner and show, are $63 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

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