Milkman’s daughter


Tevye’s worldview is challenged when his eldest bucks tradition in Fiddler
on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof is a bittersweet story set in a
Jewish village in pre-Revolutionary Russia. Its central character, Tevye the
milkman, is the father of three independent-thinking daughters, and he is a
pensive man, given to long and sometimes hilarious soliloquies, always in the
process of defining his relationship with God and trying to live his life
according to the Jewish creed. His firm belief in tradition, however, is
challenged when his eldest daughter chooses the man she wants to marry
without his consent. It’s a familiar tale, and a show that has been
produced countless times—even made into a popular movie back in

But the truth is, director Timothy Anderson is not preoccupied with making
his production distinct—admitting that he hasn’t watched the
movie version in years—because he drew his inspiration from the
original stories by Sholom Aleichem on which the musical was based. Like
Tevye, Anderson is not one to break with tradition, saying that the
production will remain relatively faithful to the original. He did, however,
work to integrate the music of the show with its dramatic aspects.

“We have several instrumentalists involved in this show,”
Anderson explains, “and some of them have been woven into the action on
stage so that the music feels like it’s coming from the village. Some
of our musicians are non-professionals and skill levels vary—as they
would in any village.

“We have a violinist who has done several shows with us,” he
continues. “He has a scene where I asked him to stagger out drunk from
the inn and I wanted him to play badly. I think he’s a little worried
that people might think he can’t play. I said, ‘Don’t
worry, at the top of the show they hear that you can play, so by this point
they’ll know that you’re acting.’ I’m sure the music
director was shaking her head over that one.”

But most of the troubles Anderson has encountered have been of a more
practical nature. Like all community theatre, finding rehearsal space can be
tough; so far, rehearsals have taken place in various different locations,
and it wasn’t until last week that the actors had a chance to work in
the actual performance space. As well, the actors simply do not have the time
to devote to actual rehearsal as they might in a professional production;
they have to uncover their characters in different ways.

David William Cairns, who portrays the butcher Lazar Wolf, recounts his
struggle with the character. “For the first month I couldn’t find
Lazar,” Cairns says. “It wasn’t until the second month that
it really started to gel. The way I kept in touch with my character was, at
home, I would actually walk in character. If I make a cup of tea I’ll
do it in character. You get a few strange looks, but the end product is worth

And it’s an end product that Cairns is confident audiences will approve
of—a fresh look at an old classic.

“They’ll be able to follow the storyline,” Cairns says,
“but as far as I’m concerned, it’ll be like watching a
brand new show.” V

Fiddler on the Roof
Directed by Timothy J. Anderson • Written by Sholom Aleichem, Joseph
Stein, Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick • Westbury Theatre, TransAlta
Arts Barns • Thu-Sat, Feb 9-11 & Thu-Sat, Feb 16-18 •

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