Tradition! Beloved musical, 'Fiddler on the Roof,' staged at Masonic Center
Expect to step into another world when you enter the Masonic Center for a performance of "Fiddler on the Roof," the classic tale of a Jewish father who tries to maintain religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach on their lives in Russia in 1905.
The musical, directed and choreographed by Casey Paradies, with musical direction by Frank Sikich, explores universal themes that touch on the beliefs and customs which define a people and knit families together over generations.
Those themes cut across barriers of race, class, nationality and religion, Paradies said. The show has touched audiences worldwide with its warmth, humor and honesty.
The story centers on Tevya, a poor milkman; his sharp-tongued wife, Golda, and their five daughters, in the little village of Anatevka, where their lives are as precarious as the perch of a fiddler on the roof.
"It's a beautiful show that has a message that will never not be timely," Paradies said.
With the help of a colorful and tight-knit Jewish community, Tevye, played by Mark Diers, tries to protect his daughters and instill in them traditional values in the face of changing social mores and the growing anti-Semitism of czarist Russia.
"I like to create a world that the audience is watching," said Paradies. "In a world of Twitter and cellphones, attention spans are short and getting shorter. I want people to sit down and become immersed in a world that has a different effect for an audience."
In "Fiddler," he's creating the world of revolutionary Russia, racked with upheaval and forces working to overthrow the czarist regime.
"The easiest people to blame are the Jewish people; they are the scapegoats because of the unrest around them," Paradies said.
"Governments come and go. Humanity seems to always survive."
"As the show progresses, it gets sadder and sadder; the challenges keep coming," he said. "We move on, because we have to."
The show, filled with moments of laughter, joy and sadness, has long been beloved for songs such as "Tradition," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "If I Were a Rich Man."
Live music is provided by Emily Bibow, piano; Don Craig, reed instruments; Christiane Taralson, trumpet; Caleb Fritel, percussion, and Tamara Auer, violin.
Given today's political landscape, Paradies could have focused on issues of refugees or immigration, he said, but chose instead to present the play "through the eye of tradition."
"How do we continue to be human? How do we preserve what our parents and grandparents taught us—and what gets lost along the way?"
Audiences will "watch Tevye, who loves his daughters so much, go through this struggle, as his oldest three daughters pave their own path in life."
"It's a show that parents, in particular, can really relate to," Paradies said. "What are our traditions? How do traditions survive? How do traditions create our humanity?"
The play will also resonate "with anyone who hasn't done exactly what their parents wanted them to do."
Winner of nine Tony Awards when it debuted in 1964, "Fiddler on the Roof" was the brainchild of Broadway legends Jerome Robbins and Harold Prince, songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and book-writer Joseph Stein.
For Paradies, working with a cast and crew of about 70—including the youngest who's 6 years old and the oldest who's about 60—is "a little daunting," he said.
"This is one of the biggest shows we done. It's the biggest show I've ever done."
Given the many players, the production is being staged in the Masonic Center's theatre, rather than the Fire Hall Theatre.
Enhancing the experience for the audience are the 1915, hand-painted stage backdrops, considered to be among the best preserved in the nation, said Kathy Coudle-King, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Theatre Company.
"It's interesting to me that the backdrops were painted only 10 years after the story (of the "Fiddler") happened," Paradies said.
It is likely, since the show has been around since 1964 and was made into a movie, that many people will have seen it, but Paradies said the stage performance offers something new.
As director, his challenge was to determine "what can we do to make people feel they're seeing it for the first time?"
"The experience of seeing it on a movie screen is different from a live performance," he said. "Even if they've seen it a million times, it will be a new experience, it really will."
Paradies credits Amy Lyste, set painter; Mare Thompson, costume mistress, and Sikich, music director, for their work.
"Assistant choreographer Stefanie Kurtz created the bottle dance that was originally done by Jerome Robbins on Broadway," he said. "She did an amazing job."
It's also interesting to him that, in the process of directing the play, "I still find new things every day," he said.
In the production, which closes the 70th season of the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre, he said, "I hope the audience sees a very real family going through a very real struggle, trying to keep their traditions and customs alive in a changing world.
"I hope people will walk away from the show with hope, singing the songs, and with a deeper appreciation for their own traditions. No matter what dark times we're going through, we keep moving on."
If you go:
What: "Fiddler on the Roof," a production of the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and May 17-19, and 2 p.m. Sunday and May 20
Where: Masonic Center, 423 Bruce Ave.
Tickets: $21 for adults; $18 for seniors, students, military, teachers and first-responders, and $16 for children 12 and younger. Call (701) 777-4090 or visit the Chester Fritz Auditorium box office between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The Masonic Center will be open one hour before curtain time for ticket sales.