Sunnyvale Community Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof is going to delight audiences in ways that no previous Fiddler production has. The well-known story is based on the works of Sholom Aleichem, often called the Jewish Mark Twain. Playwright Joseph Stein collaborated with composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick to create a captivating presentation of the lives of the people of Anatevka, a little village in Czarist Russia in the early 20th Century. Its themes of tradition vs. change, family, and community are timeless, and given the current state of the world today, they are especially timely. This Broadway favorite first hit the stage in 1964, became a highly acclaimed feature film in 1971, and is beloved the world over.
The story follows the lives of Tevye (Dan Kapler), his wife Golde (Sarah Bylsma), their five daughters, and their tight-knit community. Yente the Matchmaker (Merav Berger) is a central member of the community arranging marriages (or matches) as is the custom. Perchik (Sam Nachison) comes to the village from far away and stirs things up by bringing forward many ideas of change in the world.
There are others in the village as well with whom the Jewish community peacefully coexists, as Tevye says in the opening number:
“We don’t bother them, and, so far, they don’t bother us.”
See the full cast list here.
Fiddler on the Roof has everything a show can have. It has festivities and happiness, imagination, pathos and despair. It has gentle humor, and life lessons about acceptance and how to handle change.
The production staff includes:
- Directors: Steve Shapiro and Matt Welch (who also doubles as the scenic designer)
- Vocal Director: Mary Carroll
- Choreographer: Marcie Shapiro
- Music Director: Kevin Surace
- Producer: Raissa Marchetti-Kozlov
- Assistant Producer: Jen Maggio
Here’s a look behind the scenes at the first sit-sing when the cast met the orchestra for the first time:
Many of the people involved in this production have a very personal connection with the story. The directors are both keenly aware of the societal relevance even in their own daily lives. They look at the story as a way to work toward greater understanding in a world where people are still discriminated against for their beliefs. Steve Shapiro has an even a tighter connection having grown up with and continuing to practice many of the traditions in the story, as well as being the father of two daughters (who are part of the ensemble in this production). Like Tevye, he wants to protect his family from the ills of the world to the best of his ability. Choreographer Marcie Shapiro (Steve’s wife) also has a very close connection having grown up in the faith, and even has an uncle who is a local rabbi. In fact, the rabbi shared his insights and background with the cast early in the rehearsal process giving them additional understanding beyond the script and their various personal experiences.
Among the cast, Dan Kapler is a very adept Tevye, in part channeling Topol’s characterization. For him, this is his bucket list role. He started being cast as a lead in musicals about 15 years ago and felt at that time, if he could play Tevye, he could happily retire from theatre having hit the highest height of all. As fate would have it, he has been able to play this role a number of times before, and it fits him well. For Kapler, this show is his favorite above all others in part because it’s part of his identity. His great-grandfather came from a place very much like Anatevka, for the same reason that Tevye and his family are eventually are forced out.
Sarah Bylsma also has a personal connection with the show, but she ended up in a different role than she initially sought. When she auditioned, she had her sights set for Fruma Sarah, but by a stroke of good fortune, she was called back for Golde. She had been in a previous production of Fiddler when she was much younger though she wasn’t as connected to the cultural aspects of the show at the time. She too grew up with Jewish traditions, but this time around, she feels a much greater pull from the story as it draws her back to her roots in new ways.
Sam Nachison sought the role of Perchik for many reasons. The traditions are a part of him having grown up in the faith, but his vision of Perchik is very different than other characterizations. Yes, he’s a bit of a rebel, but he’s also very centered in Jewish culture. Unlike most any other Perchik that has been played, Nachison’s version has an impressive beard, and not just because he can grow one. In his view, the beard, being an important part of the Jewish traditions of the time, is part of what centers Perchik in his life. Perchik is a very passionate man, and very comfortable with himself and his beliefs. He sees the changes going on in the world and believes that he can see them through and make life better for all people. Perchik is supposed to be idealistic, and Nachison takes this idealism to a new level.
Merav Berger also has a personal identification with the show. She not only grew up with the customs, she has also spent a good deal of her adult life living in Israel. Her Yente is perhaps a bit more worldly than most because rather than wistfully saying “next year in Jerusalem; next year in the Holy Land” as so many Jews do each year at Passover, she actually knows of whence she speaks.
There are many others in the cast who also have a very personal connection to the show in various ways. As the directors have pointed out, these themes go well beyond the Jewish community.
And then there is the hauntingly beautiful music. Kevin Surace and Mary Carroll have done this show together before at St. Lawrence Academy, but this Sunnyvale production is special in a couple of new ways.
The whole score is gorgeous, and challenging, and Surace is a master at pulling together very capable, large orchestras. As such, while not usually done this way for community theatre groups, every part is to be played. Not only that, all of the orchestral strings will be doubled to provide a much more lush sound than is usually heard from a community theatre orchestra. The pit at Sunnyvale cannot possibly fit 25 players, so the orchestral strings and the accordion will be on stage (although the accordion will be synthesized from the pit opening weekend), and everyone else will be in the pit, individually miked for precise balance.
Two members of the orchestra are also technically part of the cast. Griff Derryberry will assume the stage role of the Fiddler for most of the run. This production is special to him in part because he’s reprising the stage role he played 20 years ago, but also because his son is in the ensemble this time. Derryberry will relinquish the role of the Fiddler for two performances (though he will still be in the orchestra) so that Eric Sun can realize one of his life’s dreams to play this glorious role for the first and last time.
From the program:
“Eric Sun (violin soloist) has played the violin since age 4. He has been active in orchestral and chamber music throughout his life, including performances at Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House. Eric plays an 1850 violin by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. Due to an incurable brain cancer, this production of Fiddler on the Roof will be his final set of public performances. Thereafter, his violin will be loaned to the Eric Sun-Karen Law Vuillaume Fellowship, to be awarded to promising young artists who will use the instrument for community-building projects. He sends his love and gratitude to Karen, his medical team at Stanford, and their entire Squad who come from near and far to see these performances.”
In addition to playing the role of the Fiddler for two performances, Sun will have the opportunity to display his virtuosity and realize another Fiddler-related dream every performance.
Surace has long been enamored with the miniature, 8-minute symphony that John Williams wrote for the film version of Fiddler. Williams scored the film, adapted from the Broadway score, but being a film, they needed additional music for the opening credits. In an unusual move, Surace has added Williams’ Excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof in its entirety as intermission entertainment. What makes this piece so special aside from being an elegant and challenging medley from the show is that it features a violin cadenza written for Isaac Stern, who recorded it for the film’s soundtrack. Sun will dazzle audiences during the intermission each show playing Stern’s part in this piece.
While the overall piece is far more dramatic with the full orchestra, here’s what Eric Sun can do:
Kevin Surace’s exquisite orchestra includes (using 25 players per performance):
- Strings: (Violin 1) Eric Sun, Nathaniel Mailoa; (Violin 2) Luke Peng, Griff Derryberry; (Violin 3) Karen Law, Jamie Yuen, Karen Kenrick, Sue-Mae Saw (2 each performance); (Viola 1) Judy Beck, Lori Jensen; (Viola 2) Geri Actor, Goetz Leonhardt, Lisa Antonio (2 each performance); (Cello) Annette DeSchon, Rob Gloster; (Bass) David Lake; (Guitar) Michael Perry
- Accordion: Pauline Samson
- Woodwinds: (Flute/Piccolo) Doreen Oroshnik, Eileen Wickemeyer, Asa Stern (1 per performance); (Clarinet) Ande Jacobson; (Bass Clarinet/Clarinet) Owen Hakes, Steven Holmes (1 per performance); (Oboe/EH) Marty McHan, Rebecca Ritger, Asa Stern (1 per performance); (Bassoon) Keith Leung
- Brass: (Horn) Jerry Simon; (Trumpet/Flugelhorn) Bill Hunsicker, Ken Thomas, Mark Bishop, Rebecca Bishop (3 per performance); (Trombone) Jason Loveman
- Synth (Harp/Accordion sub): Benjamin Belew
- Drums and Percussion: Bob Wylie
Tickets are available online through the Sunnyvale Community Players website or by phone at 408-733-6611. The show runs Thursdays – Sundays, 16 September – 8 October 2017.
Performances will be at the Sunnyvale Community Center Theater located at: 550 E. Remington Dr., Sunnyvale CA 94087.
This is a special show for me as well. There cannot be an A Good Reed Review review this time as I have the honor of playing the lead clarinet book for this run. Like so many others associated with this production, I too grew up with the customs and traditions in the story. My great-grandparents fled the pogroms in their native village to come to the United States around the turn of the 20th Century before my grandmother was born. I’ve grown up with this show having listened to the original Broadway cast recording ever since it was released and having read the script and the stories on which it was based as a child. I had the pleasure of seeing Hershel Bernardi perform as Tevye when I was nine years old, and I even wrote a term paper about the use of leitmotif and the importance of the music in the show for my university History of the American Musical course. In addition to having seen close to 30 different productions of this show over the years, this is my third production as a participant. I played for part of the previous Sunnyvale Community Players run in 2004, and as I discussed in my 2014 piece, Climbing out of the pit, I performed as a son onstage in a 2013 production of the show for another local theatre company.
This time, as I did for the previous SCP production, although not required, I’ve also been playing my clarinet part at some of the cast rehearsals along with the Fiddler and the piano accompanist. This music is so much a part of me, I eagerly jump at any opportunity to play it.
Please join Sunnyvale Community Players for this production. You will be glad you did.
Fiddler on the Roof (Special Edition) by MGM (Video & DVD)
Fiddler on the Roof: Based on Sholom Aleichem’s Stories
Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Fiddler on the Roof: Vocal Selections
Tevye’s Daughters: Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem
Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories (Library of Yiddish classics) by Sholom Aleichem
Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem
(Photos and videos courtesy of Sunnyvale Community Players)