After several years of opening Baylor Theatre seasons with musicals like “Love’s Labor Lost,” “Legally Blonde” and “Into The Woods,” the Baylor theater department faculty decided to shift from contemporary to classic for the 2016-17 season, tapping the 1964 musical “Fiddler on the Roof” as the season lead-in.
“It seemed like the time to try a classic musical from the golden age of musicals,” explained director Steven Pounders, who finds himself at the helm of a musical for the first time since Baylor’s 2004 production of “Quilters.”
The 1964 Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of the milkman Tevye; his wife, Golde; and their five daughters, who live in the Russian village of Anatevka in 1905.
Anatevka is located in the Pale of Settlement, a band of western Russia extending roughly from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and the territory where most Jews in Russia were forced to live. Faced with persecution and the uncertainty of life at the whim of government officials, Tevye and his fellow Jews find sustenance and meaning in their faith’s tradition.
Changing times and the pull of the heart, however, put the tradition-minding Tevye (Nicholas Carlin) at odds with his three older daughters, Tzeitel (Leah Beth Etheredge), Hodel (Christina Austin) and Chava (Susannah Metzger), with wife Golde (Rebecca Janney) often caught in the middle.
Adapted from the story “Tevye the Dairyman and His Daughters” by Sholom Aleichem (pen name of Solomon Rabinovich), “Fiddler on the Roof” set a 10-year Broadway record.
Drawn from “Fiddler on the Roof” is the musical collaboration between composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, who created such stage standards as “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Tradition.”
Music at the heart
While the music is still at the heart of “Fiddler,” with Guilherme Almeida and Melissa Johnson providing musical direction for a 35-person company and a sizable orchestra, Pounders noted that the visuals of the Baylor production will recall those of the 1964 original, which paid tribute to Jewish painter Marc Chagall.
Chagall, like Rabinovich, grew up in the Pale of Settlement and many of his paintings reflect the flavor and spirit of Jewish village life of that time, including one titled “The Fiddler” whose musician flies above the ground.
Michael Sullivan’s set design evokes the Russian-French artist with broad stroke marks on painted buildings’ posts and planks with cross-hatched lines on roofs.
Pounders noted that the Chagall references also tie the musical to a major exhibition of faith-inspired artwork by Chagall and Georges Rouault shown at Baylor in 2010.
The production’s set and lighting by Ryan Burkle and Jojo Percy also suggest the broader community of tradition in which Tevye and his family live.
“There’s a lot of depth to the story,” the director said. “It’s a universal tale . . . in a Jewish village.”
At the same time, assistant director and graduate student Joshua Horowitz, who is Jewish, worked with the Baylor cast on providing the historical and religious context of the story. Rounding out the production are costumes designed by Sally Askins and Andrew Davis’ sound design.
“Fiddler on the Roof” opens its two-week run Wednesday.