Tevye the Dairyman and his family…his wife Golde…his five daughters: Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, and Bielke…Yente the Matchmaker…Motel the Tailor…Perchik the Student…and all the assorted villagers that make up Fiddler on the Roof’s town of Anatevka.
You likely know all of these characters. Maybe you’ve even seen Fiddler on the Roof. Perhaps the 1971 show with Topol as Tevye. Or maybe you saw it open on Broadway in 1964—with Zero Mostel and Beatrice Arthur.
Famous musical. Some famous people.
But what you probably haven’t seen is the performance I saw last night at a local high school. That’s right. Last night I had the unique opportunity to see a local showing of Fiddler on the Roof performed by a handful of students at a high school in a local city. Topol wasn’t there, nor was Zero Mostel. But the young man who played Tevye was just as earnest and spirited as any other performer in the role. He wanted to embody the spirit of Tevye’s old world as much as any other player before him.
He just doesn’t have the name recognition.
But sitting there last night—in full awareness that this was, indeed, a high school performance, there was the joy of Anatevka, the sorrow of lost tradition, the excitement of new ways, and the tragedy of losing a home. Tevye desperately wanted the old ways, but then again, he wanted so much for his daughters to be happy. Chava ate out his soul. Motel the Tailor begged and pleaded for Tzeitel’s hand in the face of a much wealthier offer. The Constable of Anatevka betrayed them all. And a very impressive high school fiddler played from a rooftop, much to the delight of the audience (including her proud parents).
Then, after the show, these kids stormed out from behind the curtain against all theatrical decorum (good for them!) and hugged their parents and friends, including my friend who made a beeline right for his mother, sitting beside me.
There were pictures, laughing, beards being shed, and jokes being told…all in the glow of Fiddler and the humble story of Anatevka.
No, this wasn’t Broadway, but it was close in spirit.
Here at Nobody’s View, we take something away from an experience like that. Not just the well-known music or the memories of seeing the show when young. It was something else. The joy that comes while witnessing the hard work of others that may never get recognition outside the hometown. Many of these kids’ bios say they are going on to this or that university to study something other than music. Most of these kids will never be recognized for their musical talents or singing ability. Glee will not come filming here. Nevertheless, there was the joy of participation. Of being part of something. Of accomplishing the feat of performing a Broadway musical for the home crowd. Of wearing the makeup and costumes to become someone else, even if just for a few minutes, to bring joy.
Tevye was just one man in one small town with a small family, making his way. He wasn’t famous. Just earnest. He wanted to do his best and give the best life performance he could for his God. Tradition and the realities of the new world mixed for Tevye in Anatevka, and in the end, life went on.
And you know? For the kids in the that musical last night there was a hint of good ol’ Tevye. In places the performance was a bit unpolished. In certain parts, the music was the best it could be in the sight of the universe. The kids brought some of the new to the musical, while honoring the traditions of the stage. And in the end, when we all got into our cars (instead of wagons) and turned on our iPods to listen to rock music (instead of fiddlers), life went on. There will be no bright lights. No New York Times review. No recognition outside of a small local town.
But that’s the spirit of Fiddler. Of Tevye. Of life in Anatevka.
So to that small cast in that town last night, thank you for yet another performance of a classic. But one that was intimate and touching for reasons that go well beyond the story and the stage.