One might say that five daughters would be a huge blessing for any family; however, in the case of Tevye, in one of the longest running Broadway musical in history, the drama unfolds in heaves and sighs of Tony Awards, revivals, and a brief visit to Tulsa, Okla. as Celebrity Attractions presents Fiddler on the Roof.
The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Pamela Chabora, who plays Yente, took some time out of the rigorous tour schedule to give us a glimpse into the world of creating such a beloved and long lasting musical that speaks to many generations.
"Many people have a sweet and cherished memory of some past performance of Fiddler -- they even have the lines memorized -- that our 2012 performance may or may not completely match," Chabora said.
Chabora is taking a unique approach to Yente, who has been cast against type, and bringing her own flavor and strong acting choices to the role.
"For example, Yente the matchmaker is often portrayed by a bigger woman, relishing all her aches and pains and her lot in life in a rather caustic manner," Chabora said. "Casting me as Yente was a step in a very different direction since I am small, almost birdlike, light, and my take on the character Yente has been very different from the norm. My Yente is really getting on in years, quite forgetful, eager, and so filled with love and a desire to help and serve her Anatevka community as the Matchmaker, she often puts her foot in her mouth without even realizing it! She borders senile at times but she is light and bright and hope-filled! Many of her lines are wonderfully funny because of this unique angle, but the sour or caustic lines aren't quite as funny as a result. It has been a very interesting and inspiring challenge to play Yente."
Modern audiences, who might be aware of the show and have heard of it, might find the subject matter endearing and fall in love with this show about the big ideals that keep us together through tough times. The story centers around Tevye and his somewhat failed attempts to maintain strict Jewish religious traditions while outside influences creep into their lives.
"This classic is filled with Universal Themes that ring so true for all of us now," Chabora said. "One of my favorite images is that of the Fiddler balancing precariously on the roof. ... just trying to survive through love, community, faith, tradition, hope and a willingness to work hard. Through thick and thin no matter what, faith and pulling together as a community will carry us through. We see this over and over again, when great storms sweep in and wipe out entire communities; all they owned materially is gone, but they have each other, they have their faith, they have their traditions ... their ways of doing things, and they bravely start again no matter how precarious the balancing act."
Tradition, in all its colors, flavors and comforts, is the bright thread that runs through this show.
"Another theme that really hits home even now is tradition ... and challenging of tradition!" Chabora said. "We see that in every family and the more we clasp rigidly on our ways of doing things the more easily we break. Tevye says 'How far can I bend before I break?' as he struggles to accept his daughters wishes to go against tradition and follow their hearts! But in the end, our traditions evolve to embrace transformation ... we survive through adapting with love or we break."
Just like Tevye, Chabora has her own ideas about being blessed with a huge windfall of cash, just like in the song "If I Were a Rich Man," and some of her ideas are refreshingly charitable.
"My first thought was a solitary log cabin (with a separate performance studio space) in the woods with easy access to the mountains, the river or creek, the ocean and the conveniences; but when I think about it more, I would buy centers to actually train, heal and help the homeless across our country ... and honestly, I think 'There but for you go I' when I see the pervasive homeless situation across this country. This tour has opened my eyes to just how extreme this problem is in our country."
From "Tradition" to "Exodus" audiences will delight in the big warm hug this show has become, like a beloved prayer shawl or paternal father figure who passes out hugs, money or candy at family functions.
"The genuine, unconditional love of this Anatevka Community and this Fiddler Company is tangible to our audiences," Chabora said, "from the opening circle in the song 'Tradition' to the closing circle where members of the community bow to each other one last time in the 'Exodus.' It's real and I have never experienced such a full embracing of all of us with all of our idiosyncrasies in any theatre company in my career! The sharpness musically and physically, the precision, the three-dimensionality of every character all circling around our fabulous Tevye (our 'Everyman') in this show carries across the footlights and embraces every audience member palpably. They are driven to their feet by the truth, the conviction and the unconditional love on stage. I am so proud and honored to be part of this Fiddler Company!"
Celebrity Attractions presents Fiddler on the Roof May 8-13 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. For tickets call 918-596-7111.
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