Back to the shtetl

The Encore! Educational Theatre Company presents its production of the classic musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

By HADASS BEN-ARI
May 22, 2010 11:20
3 minute read.
Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Various productions of Fiddler on the Roof over the years have been modified from Sholom Aleichem’s original version in order to appeal to international audiences. But the Encore! Educational Theatre Company is going back to the roots for a more traditional version of the renowned musical and is committed to doing justice to the legendary playwright.

Robert Binder, the artistic director of Encore!, ensures the authenticity of the production by recreating Jewish life as it was at the time of the shtetl in the town of Anatevka in every aspect of the play, from the set design to the script. “We’re using Hebrew and Yiddish expressions,” Binder says. “We’re trying to give a much more genuine feel to the place and the characters and the situation of facing tradition, without apologies.”

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In keeping with the traditional version, Binder also decided to include the play’s original opening number, “We Haven’t Missed a Shabbos Yet,” which has been cut from the musical in international productions and replaced with the better-known number “Tradition.”

By reintroducing the opening number of “We Haven’t Missed a Shabbos Yet,” in which Tevye’s wife and daughters are frantically preparing for Shabbat, Binder adds an element to the play that Jewish audiences can relate to, even today. The actors successfully convey the pressure to finish cooking and cleaning in time for candle-lighting, thus making the production more genuine.

Furthermore, Binder explains that in other productions Tevye, the central character (who will be played by Bezalel Manekin), is more passive when he gives in to his daughters’ marital wishes. “You get the feeling that Tevye feels ‘All right, I have to be a modern person.’ And that’s really not what the stories are about,” Binder asserts. “We’re trying to show in our production a version that is truer to the original – that tradition means something valuable. Tradition is very much a lifestyle, and Tevye (who will be played by Bezalel Manekin) and the Jews in Anatevka love that tradition and want to preserve that tradition.”

As Encore! is a volunteer organization, the actors’participation is driven by one element – pleasure. “This is on our own time. We do it because we love it,” says Lianne Ratzersdorfer, who plays the part of Hodel. She and Avital Sykora (Tzeitel) are newcomers to Encore! but have extensive experience in musicals. “It’s a very fun and upbeat family play,” says Maxine Karp (who plays Chava). “The producers take things very professionally but also fun.”

Binder further adds that the musical direction of Paul Salter is presented in a very “singable” way. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the audience will be singing along with the cast,” he laughs.

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Arlene Chertoff, the bubbly, charismatic choreographer of the production, says that although it’s a challenge to not have any trained dancers to work with, it gives her room to be creative in making the cast look good. “The play is a classic. It’s beautiful, the music is gorgeous,” she explains. “We have a wonderful cast. They’re motivated and they learn well, and we just have a good time doing this. We’re like a family. The process of working together is fantastic.”

Although Binder thinks that much of the audience will be in tears at the end, they will leave with the sense of hope and optimism that the characters and the play are intended to convey.

“It’s a celebration of Jewish life and the preservation of Jewish tradition, not the breakdown of tradition,” says Binder. “And even though it ends sadly, there’s a lot of hope in the story. The figure of the fiddler on the roof, that very shaky, unstable figure, accompanies the family. That’s also a symbol of tradition and optimism, going on to meet new challenges.”

The theater company brings all these elements to the stage with a cast of more than 60 people and a 10-piece orchestra. And as with all Encore! productions, Fiddler on the Roof will feature a Hebrew translation projected above the stage.

“People know that when Encore! comes to town, we have something very special to offer,” says Binder. “‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is for everybody, young and old. You and your Bubbeh should all come and enjoy.”

Fiddler on the Roof will be playing in Jerusalem at the Hirsch Theater in Beit Shmuel on May 25-27, on June 1-3 and 22-23; plus one performance in Netanya at Heichal Hatarbut on June 13. For tickets and further details: www.encore-etc.com.
054-578-9006.

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