Those involved in the Ziegfeld Theater’s opening production of its 2015 season, “Fiddler on the Roof,” are saying the show is still pertinent today, despite the fact that it has been on stages across the world for over 50 years.
“If you took our show and put everyone in modern clothes it would still be relevant,” said Layne Willden, who plays Tevye.
The Tony award-winning Broadway musical’s message is of love, caring and accepting matter — no matter what time period you are in, Willden, of Ogden, said.
“Fiddler on the Roof,” with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein, is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories about “Tevye the Dairyman.” Tevye is the father of five daughters and lives in the small, fictional Jewish village of Anatevka, Russia. The show is set in 1905, when Russia was in the midst of a revolution and life for the Jews was difficult. Tevye is faced with circumstances, especially while marrying off his daughters, that cause him to take a serious look at tradition and whether or not it is really important.
“I have always loved ‘Fiddler’ for some reason,” said director Caleb Parry. “When I was a kid my parents were in it and I was the kid who came to every rehearsal and every show.”
Parry said that while he loved the musical as a child, he didn’t understand it completely. Now that he’s older, the message is more clear — and more near and dear to him.
And to Parry, the message is “knowing when to follow your heart versus what you’ve always been taught,” which he said is relevant to culture in Utah with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith.
“I think that particularly for us in our area with the LDS faith when people move away from the faith it can be difficult for families,” Parry said, mentioning that it also doesn’t just happen with those who are LDS, and that other religions experience similar situations.
Later in the show Tevye needs to decide if his tradition is really worth disowning one of his daughters, Chava, who has decided to marry a man not of the Jewish faith.
“It’s so hard to think that your religion could push you to a place where you would have to look your daughter in the face who is desperately trying to make you understand and say no and that she’s dead to you,” Parry said.
The scene in which that happens is called the “Chavaleh Sequence,” and is a favorite for many, including Parry, Willden and Carolyn Stevens.
Stevens, who plays Tevye’s wife, Golde, said that even though she isn’t in the scene, it’s her favorite. Tevye sings of his daughter and how she was a “sweet little bird,” who was kind and affectionate, and that he doesn’t understand what is happening with her.
“Sometimes I’ve felt growing up that I was Chavaleh, that I was the little bird,” Stevens, of South Ogden, said.
She also said she’s seen her own children that way.
“They’ve all made choices that have been hard for them to come back from, but they’ve come back. … You tend to look at your kids like that then and just remember the sweetness,” Stevens said.
Willden said he has seven children, and that it’s a struggle to accept that they don’t all want to believe the same way he does.
“I think that's really what you’re seeing with Tevye, is this is what he grew up with (and) believed in since he was little, and his children aren’t following that same path and he’s having a difficult time understanding but because he loves them he’s willing to bend a little bit in his beliefs to understand where they’re coming from,” Willden said.
But the situation with Chava is too much and causes a separation because he can’t go any further, Willden said.
“It’s such a struggle for him to say no to his daughter because he loves her so much,” he said.
Parry brought in Paul Draper, an anthropologist who is Jewish, to help teach the cast about the Jewish culture.
“There’s so much that goes into the show and the background and everyone is so eager to learn about the culture, time period, character, how to best tell their piece of the story,” Parry said.
He also said that they’ve been using “Tevye the Dairyman” as a backstory to fuel the characters. A great deal of research has gone into the show as well.
Getting the wedding scene, “Sunrise, Sunset,” right took Parry hours, he said. He wanted to make sure that “everything about it was exactly the way it should be.”
Much of Parry’s visual concepts have come from Jewish painter Marc Chagall, who painted “The Fiddler” in 1912, which was never used as a metaphor in the story of the book but inspired the title of the show, Parry said.
Parry said he wanted to explore Chagall’s artwork, and that pieces of his art will pop up as projections in the scenes. Tevye’s dream sequence is the furthest they go with the concept, he said, as the cast will be dressed in bright colors, bringing the piece to life.
It’s not important for people to remember Russia in 1905, Parry said, but rather the lessons the show teaches.
“If the show weren't important it wouldn’t be done anymore,” Parry said.
He said that as artists, those at the Ziegfeld have the responsibility to expose.
“Yeah we do some fun stuff that makes people laugh but there are times you get to do things like ’Fiddler’ that’s a classic, but you have so many things to learn from it,” he said.
Willden said audience members can watch the show and feel where the characters are coming from.
“Musical theater is fun that way because you can take a serious topic and make it more enjoyable,” he said.
- WHAT: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’
- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday Feb. 6-March 7, with a 2 p.m. matinee March 7.
- WHERE: The Ziegfeld Theater, 3934 S. Washington Blvd., Ogden.
- TICKETS: $12-$17, 855-ZIG-ARTS or www.theziegfeldtheater.com