"Fiddler on the Roof" is rarely considered political or particularly serious, but the worldwide issue of migration and displacement is inescapable, even as the show raises a cup to love and life.
Change. Every generation experiences it. Older generations may oppose it. Sometimes it divides communities, families, homes. It’s a part of life no matter where or when you live. But not all change brings resistance. Sometimes, especially if it’s accompanied by a song and a dance, instead of bringing division, change can bring down the house.
The award-winning show Fiddler on the Roof, which opened in 1964 and received a Tony Award for Best Musical as well as eight other Tony Awards in 1965, has been revived to prove to a new generation not all traditions should be obsolete. Audiences can expect to see everything they love about the classic Fiddler on the Roof now infused with more Jewish culture and choreography, adding to the energy and authenticity of the show.
For those who have yet to see Fiddler on the Roof, the story follows Tevye, a father and businessman in 1905 Russia, struggling to hold on to his traditions while the world around him, including his own family, pushes the boundaries.
Even though the story takes place in 1905 Russia, it’s relevant today. “We’re always living in changing times,” says Carole Beaugard who plays Yente, the gossipy village matchmaker. “People want to have control over their own lives, especially women who want to be more empowered and make their own decision.”
Director Bartlett Sher made the cast study the history of the times to understand what was happening in 1905 Anatevka, Russia to bring a more authentic performance by the actors. “People lived in shtetls, which were small Jewish communities where the rabbi was a significant figure,” says Beaugard. “The matchmaker was the second most important person because her role was to continue the marriages and culture.”
Beaugard considers it an honor to play such an iconic role and admits the show’s portrayal of Yente strays a bit from tradition. “She’s usually played as an annoying busybody, but our director wanted to make her more of an upscale and respected woman. I play her as a loving, well-intentioned, but focused businesswoman.”
Yente doesn’t dress in the typical shabby clothes seen in many productions. “She wears a nice hat and coats, and always carries her purse,” says Beaugard. “She has a lot of pride and carries herself with a great deal of dignity.”
Among all the characters, Beaugard personally relates to Hodel, the daughter who’s attracted to Perchik, a scholar and political activist. “My mom wanted me to marry a doctor or lawyer or be one,” says Beaugard. “She wanted me to have a legitimate career, but I always wanted to be an actress, and I was attracted to musicians.
“She [Hodel] wants to do bigger things. She’s attracted to Perchik because he’s different. He’s a free thinker, and that’s what makes him exciting to her.”
Tradition was an essential part of the survival of the Jewish communities. As an older, prominent member of the community, Yente has a lot to lose when the daughters of Tevye start rebelling against tradition by choosing their husbands.
“Her role in the community was prestigious,” says Beaugard who researched matchmakers of the times to get a clear historical picture of the part she would be playing. When a match she created (that would give her a good commission) does not come through, her world is shaken. “Someone has challenged the tradition and authority of the matchmaker,” says Beaugard. “It’s a direct threat to her future.”
Yente may be the one character who realizes there is a more significant threat lurking than teenage rebellion. Although 1905 predates the Holocaust, pogroms, violent riots provoking the massacre and persecution of the Jews, were occurring, and Jewish communities were evacuated from towns.
The director made the cast aware that even though what was happening was anti-Semitic, it was driven by economics and the desire of Russians to take over Jewish businesses and land. Beaugard says when you look at any government or people trying to take over other countries or ethnic groups, the bottom line is always money and economics.
Although Yente gets a lot of laughs, if you look closely, you can see there’s an undercurrent of fear. “She’s a frightened old lady,” explains Beaugard. “She knows, given her age and economic insecurity, even if she has the physical stamina to relocate, she may not be able to re-establish herself as a matchmaker.”
Despite her fear and financial insecurity, Yente sees a glimmer of hope in their future.
“She has the belief that bad times happen, but I’m going on to the next thing,’” says Beaugard. Nothing portrays this better than the last scene where Yente offers comic relief and hope amid the heartache.
While the change-versus-tradition is a central theme throughout the musical, Beaugard sees a more profound message. “It’s about love and endurance,” she says. “It’s about a man and his love for his family. And wanting the best for them and learning that sometimes you have to change to have the best for them.
“It’s a show about endurance because despite whatever hardship and challenges come up, you still have to persevere and move forward. You have to be true to yourself, but also have enough wisdom to know that sometimes to stay true to yourself, you have to change.”
Fiddler on the Roof
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. | Tulsa
June 18-20: 7:30 p.m.
June 21: 8 p.m.
June 22: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
June 23: 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
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