The curtain will open 7 p.m. Friday at the Golden Chain Theatre for the first of 12 performances of the much-anticipated production “Fiddler On The Roof.”
The show, based on the stories of Shalem Aleichem, is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.
First seen on Broadway Sept. 22, 1964, the story centers on the village of Anatevka where milkman Tevye complains to God a bit, but basically enjoys life with his wife, their five daughters and his fellow villagers.
Older villagers celebrate their commitment to keeping things the way they have always been. The younger generation, particularly three of Tevye’s daughters who are finding true love, don’t like the tradition of matchmaking and want some say in who they will wed. It’s a timeless story of Tevye, the Jewish, philosophical patriarch, and his family who struggle to keep up with the changing world around them.
The amusing yet moving play, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and Jerome Robbins, and book by Joseph Stein, is directed by Jennifer Piccolotti, GCT’s artistic director, who said Fiddler is one of her very favorite musicals.
James Mierkey plays the lead role of Tevye, a big, gruff man with a heart of gold who somehow seems to balance tradition and adaptability. Whether it’s decision-making moments or trying to gain cooperation from his hard-nosed wife, Golde, played by Julie Riley, Tevye is always looking for solutions that maintain stability and don’t completely forsake established customs.
“Not only is Fiddler a daunting show to tackle because of the fact that everyone has seen the movie and have a certain standard that they will be looking for, but with nearly 70 cast members, there are a lot of details to handle,” Mierkey said. “They all have to be costumed and taught music and choreography and then it all needs to come together in to the seamless, cohesive story that so many know and love.”
Mierkey said he was honored to play Jesus in Godspell this past spring - a difficult task he took very seriously.
“When Jennifer approached me to consider the role of Tevye, I was again overwhelmed by the opportunity,” Mierkey said. “These two roles are some of the most iconic in musical theatre history and I am so humbled to be able to do them both in the same year.
Mierkey said Tevye is a complex character with a sensitive side, but also a hard edge produced by a life of displacement because of his faith, and his tradition.
“He is met with serious challenges throughout the story and that manifests in a major personal crisis that is a challenge to portray on stage,” Mierkey said. “With the help of a wonderful cast and solid direction I am becoming him and it is a thrill and an honor to play him.”
Riley said playing Tevye’s wife Golde has been an emotional roller-coaster.
“But that’s what I love about it,” Riley said. “The challenge has been to portray the entire range of emotions she goes through in a very short time frame. I hope I can play her as I have come to know her - extremely tough on the exterior, but extremely tender to those she loves.”
Riley will be on stage with her two daughters - Savannah, 10, and Peyton, 13, who gets to open and close the show as the ‘fiddler.’
Mierkey said Piccolotti has done a fantastic job handling all of those details as well as giving all the principal actors the individual attention they need to bring their characters to life.
But beyond that, Piccolotti chose Fiddler because she wanted something that would be influential bringing new people to the Golden Chain stage that may otherwise be intimated to audition for another show.
“The characters in Fiddler are real people,” Piccolotti said. “There are no showgirl diva actress types in this show. At the beginning of rehearsals I told my cast if it’s always been your dream to dress up and be glamorous on the stage, it won’t be in this show.”
Piccolotti said that although Fiddler may not be flashy, it’s wonderfully moving.
“It will make you laugh and cry,” Piccolotti said. “I also chose Fiddler because it will bring new patrons to the Golden Chain. Fiddler is iconic, well known, well loved ... a wonderful family event for the Thanksgiving holiday season.”
Mierkey’s singing is strong on such classics as “Tradition,” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” His duet with Riley on “Do You Love Me?” is one of the highlights in the second act.
Kelly Ravel, Lyric Piccolotti, and Alli Ruiz play the marrying daughters, who will sing “Matchmaker” and are individually stellar in their spotlighted moments.
The original Broadway production of the show had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway show for almost 10 years until “Grease” surpassed its run. It remains Broadway’s 16th longest-running show in history.
The production won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book, direction, and choreography. It spawned four Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation.
Details: “Fiddler on the Roof” (rated G) - The Golden Chain Theatre, 42130 Highway 41, Oakhurst - Nov. 6-29, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p..m. - Tickets range $8-$15 - group rates available - www.goldenchaintheatre.org, (559) 683-7112.
2016 GCT schedule announced
The Golden Chain Theatre has announced its 10-show 2016 schedule:
* “The Altos” - Sept. 12 - 14.
* “Shake” - April 1-17.
* “Steel Magnolias” - May 6 - 22.
* “Makes Order Bride” - June 10 - 26.
* “Picnic with the Princesses” - May 28.
* “Seussical the Musical” (children’s summer workshop production) - July 9 and 10.
* “Dearly Departed” - Aug. 12 -28.
* “Blithe Spirit” - Sept. 23 - Oct. 9.
* “The Music Man: - Oct. 28 - Nov. 20.
* “Believe in Christmas” - Dec. 9 - 18.
2016 Season Tickets are now available for $90 ($72 - 55 and over) for seven of the above shows (not including Altos, Princesses, and Seussical), by calling (559) 683-7112, or online at www.goldenchaintheatre.org.
50 “Fiddler On The Roof” facts
“Fiddler On The Roof” first premiered on Broadway on Sept. 22, 1964. To celebrate, Broadway.com, with some help from the new book “Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-To-Hollywood Story of Fiddler On The Roof,” came up with these 50 Fiddler facts:
1. It’s widely known that Fiddler on the Roof is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories, but did you know that the real name of this Jewish Mark Twain was Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich? His pen name Sholem Aleichem literally means “peace be with you.”
2. Composer Bock and lyricist Harnick originally wanted to write a musical based on Aleichem’s Wandering Stars, about a traveling Yiddish theater company. “It would have to have had 40 minor characters on stage and it was just too big,” Harnick said in an interview. They settled on the Tevye the Dairyman stories instead.
3. Pass the apples and honey. Bock and Harnick began writing Fiddler on the Roof on Sept. 11, 1961, which was Rosh Hashanah (a.k.a. the Jewish New Year).
4. The first draft of the show was called The Old Country -other working titles included Tevye, Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away, and Where Poppa Came From.
5. The title of the musical and Boris Aronson’s set design for the original production are based Marc Chagall’s painting, “The Fiddler.”
6. Stephen Sondheim urged director/choreographer Jerome Robbins to get involved with Fiddler after hearing the score at a private party at Stein’s home in New Rochelle. Good thing Jerome listened to Stephen.
7. Harold Prince originally passed on producing Fiddler on the Roof. Bock and Harnick sweetened the deal by offering Prince their musical She Loves Me, and wonder of wonders, Prince agreed to take on Fiddler.
8. Speaking of passing up a terrific opportunity , Stein showed Fiddler to Zero Mostel while he was still starring in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Mostel turned it down, but later had a change of heart when he heard a more complete version of the show.
9. Walter Matthau, Eli Wallach, Rod Steiger, Tom Bosley (who played the title role in the Bock-Harnick hit Fiorello!), Jack Gilford, Danny Thomas and Alan King were all considered for the role of Tevye in the original Broadway production.
10. Lee Grant, Nancy Walker, and Mercedes McCambridge were all considered for Golde.
11. The first person cast in the show was Austin Pendleton. Pendleton, who played Motel the tailor, would later go on to be a notable director and actor.
12. Famed comic actor Gene Wilder also auditioned for Motel. Though he didn’t get the part, he would go on to star alongside Mostel in Mel Brooks’ 1968 film The Producers.
13. There were many changes made to the script as the production got rolling. For example, Tevye’s first number, “What a Life,” which was sung to his horse, was replaced with “If I Were a Rich Man.”
14. Fiddler on the Roof held the record for the longest-running show on Broadway for 10 years, when it was succeeded by Grease.
15. Maria Karnilova, who played Golde in the original production, famously played stripper Tessie Tura in the original cast of Gypsy.
16. Bea Arthur auditioned multiple times for the role of Yente, but Robbins thought she was too contemporary for the role. She eventually got the part, but many of her lines were cut. In her 2002 Broadway show, Just Between Friends, Arthur says Robbins was the only director who ever made her cry, and called him “a really dreadful human being.”
17. When Fiddler on the Roof premiered in Poland in 1985, the show’s authors donated their royalties to preserving the country’s Jewish monuments.
18. Joanna Merlin, who originated the role of Tzeitel, was cast in the show Nov. 22, 1963. She came out of the theater to learn that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.
19. Bert Convy, who originated the role of the revolutionary Perchik, went on to be a famous host of TV game shows, including Win, Lose or Draw and Super Password.
20. According to Pendelton, Robbins finally staged “Tradition” in the middle of the final week before they were set to leave for their Detroit tryout. It only took him 90 minutes to stage it.
21. Paul Lipson, who was Mostel’s understudy and later played Tevye in his own right, clocked more than 2,000 performances in the role. His first performance in the part was during the pre-Broadway Washington, D.C. engagement.
22. Fiddler was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won nine (all but Best Set Design).
23. No one mentioned Zero Mostel in their Tony acceptance speeches. When Mostel went up to accept his award, he said, “Since no one else has thanked me, I will thank me.”
24. Bette Midler joined the Broadway cast of Fiddler as Rivka, one of the villagers, and understudied the role of Tzeitel. When Merlin left the show, Midler took over and played the role for four years.
25. Merlin went on to be a casting director for Sondheim musicals. She worked with producer Prince on Company, A Little Night Music, Follies and Sweeney Todd.
26. Fiddler on the Roof premiered in Tokyo Sept. 6, 1967 - it has since been mounted in Japan more than 1,300 times.
27. The iconic violin solo in the film was played by renowned violinist Isaac Stern.
28. United Artists was contractually obligated to ask Robbins if he wanted to direct the film version. The director, who was wary after the conflicts that arose during the filming of West Side Story, turned the offer down.
29. Norman Jewison was then asked to direct the film - he agreed, but he was worried the producers assumed he was Jewish. “The whole world thinks I’m the Jewish son of a Jew - Jewison,” he said.
30. Jewison thought Mostel was “too big” to star in the film, and went in search of another actor to play Tevye. Danny Kaye was an early choice, but “his wife turned us down saying he was too young to have marriage-age daughters,” Harnick said.
31. Frank Sinatra’s agent called Jewison to try to get his client an audition, but he didn’t envision the crooner as a Jewish milkman.
32. Israeli actor Chaim Topol was playing Tevye in Tel Aviv when he was asked to audition for the London production. He barely spoke any English, and learned to speak the language by studying the script.
33. Three villages in Yugoslavia were transformed into Anatevka for the film.
34. Jewison tried to get Anne Bancroft to play Golde in the film but was unsuccessful. Other possible Goldes included Colleen Dewhurst, Zoe Caldwell, Dorothy Loudon, Marian Seldes, and Beverly Sills. It finally came down to Norma Crane and Lee Grant - Crane got the role.
35. Robert De Niro read for the role of Perchik - the role in the film eventually went to Paul Michael Glaser, who later became Starsky in the hit cop TV show Starsky & Hutch.
36. Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Reiner, and John Ritter auditioned for the role of Motel, but were passed over for Leonard Frey, who had played a small role (Mendel, the rabbi’s son) in the Broadway production. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance.
37. Of the film’s major reviews, eight were favorable, six were negative, and two were mixed, according to the American Film Institute. The movie cost $9 million to make and grossed $50 million in its initial release.
38. Fiddler was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1972, winning three: Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score. The French Connection beat it for Best Picture.
39. There have been five Broadway productions of Fiddler on the Roof to date. The original 1964 production ran for 3,242 performances; the 1976 production ran for 167 performances; the 1981 production ran for 53 performances; the 1990 production ran for 241 performances, and the 2004 production ran for 781 performances.
40. In 2007, Time magazine ranked Fiddler on the Roof the 7th most frequently produced musical in American high schools.
41. Composer Jerry Bock died Nov. 3, 2010 -10 days after the death of Fiddler book writer Joseph Stein.
42. Translated into Spanish, Un Violinista sobre el Tejado premiered in Panama’s National Theatre of Panama in October 2012, featuring Aaron Zebede as Tevye.
43. Grammy winner Josh Groban played Tevye in high school - if you missed his performance, don’t worry, it’s all available on YouTube.
44. John C. Reilly played a Russian commissar in a local Chicago production. He stood backstage and sang “Sunrise, Sunset” every night because he was upset he didn’t have a singing role.
45. The Book of Mormon and Frozen star Josh Gad played Tevye in his high school production. He calls it his “least celebrated” performance.
46. Beam me up, Hodel! In 1971, Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy played Tevye for eight weeks in Ohio, Massachusetts and upstate New York in a local touring production.
47. When Harvey Fierstein told producer Susan Bristow he’d like to star in the 2004 revival of Fiddler, she responded, “Who are you going to play, Golde?”
47. While sitting in her seat before the curtain went up, Jerome Robbins’ sister, Sonia Cullinen, suffered a heart attack on opening night of the 2004 revival of Fidder. She was taken to Bellvue Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
48. Sacha Baron Cohen played Tevye when he was studying at Cambridge. For his Sweeney Todd movie audition, he sang “If I Were a Rich Man.”
49. Harnick wrote new lyrics to “Sunrise, Sunset” for same-sex weddings in 2011. The male version includes these lines, “When did they get to be so handsome?/When did they grow to be so tall?/Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?”
50. The final script of Fiddler on the Roof is dedicated “to our fathers.” Prince said later that the show was “clearly conceived” by Stein, Bock, and Harnick “as a kind of valentine to their grandparents.”