Set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, Fiddler on the Roof is based on Tevye and His Daughters and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope with both the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.
Several cast members of the Playhouse’s upcoming production of Fiddler on the Roof have their own traditions and personal connections with the show. Gary Bosanek, who plays Lazar Wolf, has been captivated with the production since he saw the movie with his family at the age of 12. This production marks his eighth on stage, including the 1993 production at the Playhouse, and he has costume designed another four productions!
This is the fourth time Leanne Carlson has done a production of Fiddler on the Roof and the second in the role of Hodel. The first time Leanne played Hodel she was in high school and she is enjoying using her life experience since then to bring a new perspective to the character.
Christina Rohling started her connection with Fiddler on the Roof at the JCC in the role of Shprintze. She then played Chava at the Playhouse in 1993 and is now in the role of Tevye’s oldest daughter, Tzeitel. Christina has another special connection to this production as she gets to share the stage with her oldest daughter for the first time.
Mark Thornburg counts Fiddler on the Roof as one of his favorite musicals and is thrilled to be playing Tevye for the second time. The first, in 2006, marked his return to the stage after a 12 year hiatus to raise his family.
Jenny Priesman has not previously appeared on stage in Fiddler on the Roof, but did work backstage during the Playhouse’s 1993 production while members of her immediate family were on stage. Jenny, the hat maker’s wife, has a familial connection this time around as well. Her mother, Marion, plays Grandma Tzeitel and her father, Steve, is the stage manager.
The above cast members were asked questions about Fiddler on the Roof and their experience during rehearsals of this production. Below are the questions and their answers:
**Why do you think so many people (actors/audience) connect with Fiddler on the Roof?
Gary Bosanek- So many people connect with the show because of family traditions and lifestyles, especially when families have immigrated from the European countries. My father’s side of the family is of Polish/Russian/Czech descent, so many of the mannerisms were what I saw in my relatives as I was growing up. As an actor, I think the connection to Fiddler is that the cast becomes the village, and truly start to care about each other, through the rehearsals and performances, so that Anatevka comes to life.
Leanne Carlson- I think there are so many people that are intrigued by what humans can do to others. Fiddler on the Roof tells a beautiful, sad story with incredible humor, lets you fall in love with Tevye and his family, then makes you feel the pain of discrimination. It's something we can all learn from.
Christina Rohling- The play connects with every aspect of life - rebellion, conformity, relationships between generations, holding on to the past while trying to survive and adapt to the future. It encompasses every emotion from euphoria to despair.
Mark Thornburg- Fiddler’s story is essentially about dealing with and adjusting to change. The comforting message is that though there can be and will be much change in life; the faith, traditions, and culture that keep us grounded and comfort us will always be with us. Even when, (or perhaps especially when), the changes are dramatic, we realize that the really important things in life aren’t things at all. Faith, family, and traditions are what keep Tevye moving and coping with the changes and tragedy in his life. I think that’s a fairly familiar theme that we can all relate to.
Jenny Priesman- I think people connect with Fiddler because of the sense of family and tradition.
**What have you learned during this production of Fiddler that you have not learned in others?
Leanne Carlson- It is so interesting to continuously learn more about the Jewish/Russian lifestyle now and in the early 1900s. The Rabbi that came and spoke with us shed a lot of light on this issue. We're also learning a lot about our faith and the importance of the family bond. I think what hit home the most for me was learning how hard it would have been for Hodel to leave Anatevka in a time of such oppression....how dangerous that could have been for her, and how scary it must have been.
Mark Thornburg- This production has allowed me a great deal of time to “explore” more about what it means to be Tevye. We have a fabulous consultant in Rabbi Gross. He has been very gracious with his time and has given me more insight into what Tevye’s faith meant to him and how Tevye viewed his relationship with God. I also had the opportunity to read Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman which helped me understand the story behind the play. Having Susie Baer Collins give us so much detail and background into shtetl life and her history with this play has been an immeasurable asset also.
**What is your favorite scene in Fiddler?
Gary Bosanek- My favorite scene is the L’Chaim bar scene, because I’m playing Lazar Wolf. But, one of the most thrilling scenes is to stand and watch as the bottle dancers take the stage, and perform with their flexibility and precision. All 6 are brilliant!
Leanne Carlson- I love emotionally charged scenes, so the scene between Hodel & Tevye at the train station where she sings "Far From the Home I Love" and also the scene where Tevye sings "Chaveleh" are probably my favorites. Although I also love the power and statement of the first number, "Tradition".
Mark Thornburg- This is a nearly impossible question for me to answer. There are 3 key scenes involving my oldest three daughters that are very special to me. I have three daughters and it’s ironic that they each resemble and remind me of Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava. No matter how old your children are, there will always be times that you only see the small child you once held in your arms. You comforted them when they cried, cried over when they left home, and agonized over the struggles or trials in their lives. Tevye, for all of his bluff and bluster, cannot help being completely absorbed by and with his love for his daughters. When he tells the stories of his life to Sholem Aleichem, his daughters are nearly everything that he discusses. The most moving scenes in the play for me are all about Tevye’s daughters and how they affect and impact his life.
Jenny Priesman- So far, my favorite scene in the show is "Tradition." It's such a wonderful opening number, and hearing this cast sing it is definitely a highlight of the show.
Since 1964, the story of Tevye and his five daughters has held meaning for actors and audiences alike. The Playhouse looks forward to sharing this special story with you.
Fiddler on the Roof opens in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Friday, May 28 and runs through Sunday, June 27. Tickets are available online or by calling 402-553-0800.