The timeless tale of change in the tradition-steeped town of Anatevka, Russia is coming to the stage in Maple Ridge.
Theatre In the Country is putting on Fiddler on the Roof for the first time.
Written by Joseph Stein and based on the short stories of Sholem Aleichem, the story takes place in the early 1900s and follows Tevye as he tries to raise his five daughters maintaining his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences infiltrate his family’s values.
Reg Parks, artistic director with Theatre in the Country, believes there is a true universality to Fiddler on the Roof.
“It’s about change. It’s about generational change. It’s about parents and about kids and the challenges and kids wanting to stretch their wings in a certain way and parents wanting things to be a certain way,” said Parks
“But everybody loves one another and wants the best for one another at the same time. It’s about family and community,” he said.
It also holds great insights into the history of the Jewish culture in Russia at that time.
In the opening scene Tevye hears about pogroms or violent riots against the Jewish people in Russia, mostly within the Pale of Settlement, an area that would later become the countries of Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.
“Basically openly endorsed harassment of anybody Jewish. And eventually they cleared out villages and so it led to a very large Jewish Russian migration to North America and to England. That’s the beginning story,” said Parks.
Parks has put down his director’s cap to play the lead role of Tevye.
“It’s a little complicated to be the lead and direct a show,” said Parks, who has put award-winning director Stephen Plitt in the chair.
For this production, the set will be on a revolver.
“We’ve done it before at the theatre this one is a little more unique in that it’s very much the inside and outside of a building that becomes a number of different buildings in the village of Anatevka,” explained Parks.
Projection work is being added.
“It’s a really nice combination of a modern set with the video and some of the lighting tricks we are doing with led lights and old school wood and nail set piece. Because it’s rustic and it’s fun and it’s interesting,” he said.
Plitt has come up with an interesting way to make lanterns using LED lights.
“He had this really neat idea of putting led lights in mason jars and using them as a light source that the cast carries with them at different points in the play,” said Parks.
Also new for this production will be the use live music directed by Dr. Allan Thorpe, head of the instrumental music department at Trinity Western University, who has been a professional orchestral musician since the mid 1980’s.
“We chose to do it because live music always adds a very personal element to the show. So you are not tied to the tracks and you can make more deliberate changes to the music. Add things and strike things to make your show more of your own,” explained Parks adding that live music is more organic and engaging and not as canned as fixed tracks.
“It allows the music to be more singer driven. In other words if the singer makes a small change the band can usually react,” he said.
Thorpe is also familiar with the music in Fiddler on the Roof after having performed it at TWU.
Theatre in the Country has a unique thrush stage that wraps around the audience on three sides and in this play the audience is going to become part of the village.
“We interact heavily with the audience in this show and you know acknowledge them eyeball to eyeball and tap them on the shoulder and point them out and give them characters,” said Parks.
What makes this show so popular, though, are the themes of racism, bias and family challenges, issues that remain current.
“I hope the audience takes away joy at the end of the day,” said Parks.
In Tevye’s particular case he finds joy in his family and faith, having quirky conversations with God throughout the play.
At one point Tevye asks God, “I know we are your chosen people but once in a while couldn’t you choose somebody else?”
And it is lines like that that make the play not only fun but real and honest.
“It’s not highbrow. It’s salt of the earth faith and family issues,” said Parks promising a heart warming story with great gales of laughter offset by moments of tears.
“That’s what a great story is.”