Tevye is a poor Jewish milkman in pre-revolutionary Russia who can’t seem to balance his staunch belief in religious traditions and entrenched customs with his willful five daughters, including his oldest three who want to marry men against his wishes. While his family traditions seem to be on the verge of collapse, his home is also under siege from the Russians and its Tsar who plan to evict all Jews from their villages.
At one time the longest-running Broadway musical, “Fiddler on the Roof” comes to the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center this week starring Thomas Fiscella as Tevye and Victoria Strong as his wife, Golde. The cast also includes Richard Israel as Motel, Carly Nykanen as Tzeitel, Stephen Reynolds as Lazar Wolf, Arlene Thomas as Yente and Kelby Thwaits as Fyedka. The principal cast also includes Deidre Haren, Michaelia Leigh and Jason Webb.
Featuring the songs “Sunrise, Sunset,” “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Matchmaker,” among others, the original Broadway production opened in 1964 and was the first musical to pass 3,000 performances. Nominated for 10 Tony Awards for its initial production that starred Zero Mostel, “Fiddler” also was revived four times on Broadway and had a 1971 film adaptation. Jerome Robbins originally directed and choreographed “Fiddler,” which included the score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
Director and choreographer Jon Engstrom said it’s his third time at the helm of “Fiddler” and he said he likes to keep it fresh.
Thomas Fiscella is Tevye and Victoria Strong is Golde in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ (photo by Ed Krieger)
“For me it’s fun to watch my actors take on the persona and see what they do with it because they do it from their point of view and the thing is to keep the show fresh and not something that’s been recycled,” said Engstrom, who recently directed a production of “42nd Street” in Germany that was voted one of the most popular musicals in Europe. “They want something that is fresh and alive and lives in that moment. That’s our job, to give it the life that it was intended to have, and certainly we have a good show. This is a script where we don’t have to fix it. There are a lot of successful shows that have flaws in them and you have to compensate for that. You have to work around that. This is not one of them. It’s a beautifully written show. The dialogue and music is gorgeous. You don’t get tired of hearing it.”
In many ways, Tevye’s rigid traditional life is facing change, yet he slowly learns to accept that with the help of his daughters.
“It’s interesting for a character who wants to teach his daughters about life, the daughters end up teaching him about how to accept change and how to understand what’s really important,” Fiscella said. “That’s not a new idea. Every father I know has said they learn more from their kids then they would ever hope to teach them.”
As Golde, Strong feels “Fiddler” represents hope amidst family and external chaos.
“I don’t think there’s one ultimate message,” said Strong, who has been in a number of “Fiddler” productions but never as Golde. “There is so much going on in this story that the fact that they love each other so much through all of the turmoil and strife even when it looks so bleak. There’s a candle lit in the heart and you think, ‘All right, they’re going to move on and they’re going to survive.”
The Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof” runs Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Sunday evening performances at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21. Closing night is Dec. 21.
The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center is located at 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Redondo Beach. Tickets are $40 to $60 and can be purchased at www.civiclightopera.com or by calling (310) 372-4477.