Goodspeed stages "Fiddler on the Roof" for the first time

Max Chucker, who plays "The Fiddler," performs during rehearsal.
Max Chucker, who plays "The Fiddler," performs during rehearsal. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

For the longest time, Goodspeed Executive Director Michael P. Price was wary of staging the classic musical "Fiddler on the Roof" in the intimate Goodspeed Opera House.

"I had always resisted doing 'Fiddler.' I never thought we could do it justice," he says.

He eventually realized the theater could, in fact, bring something significant to the piece. So now, for the first time, Goodspeed is producing "Fiddler."

Price is stepping down as Goodspeed executive director at the end of this season, after 45 years at the helm. He says of staging "Fiddler," "as the sage Hillel said, " 'If not now, when?' and this was my last chance."

A few elements helped shift his thoughts on the subject. There was, he says, the "strong nudging" by Goodspeed's artistic staff - Music Director Michael O'Flaherty, Associate Producer Bob Alwine and Line Producer Donna Lynn Hilton - along with the enthusiasm of the production led by director Rob Ruggiero.

Ruggiero has directed a string of acclaimed shows at Goodspeed, from "1776" to "Show Boat" to "The Most Happy Fella," that, as Price notes, all display "a lot of humanity and a lot of flavor" - qualities that "Fiddler" demands.

"Rob has given us wonderment after wonderment," Price says.

Another factor: Price feels Goodspeed can bring a strong sensibility to the storytelling in "Fiddler" and can offer a fresh take on the main character of Tevye. Zero Mostel, who originated the role on Broadway, and many of the actors who followed played Tevye in a broader way. This production focuses on the human relationships and takes a different approach to Tevye, portrayed by Adam Heller.

"Our interpretation of this pivotal role was that we were centered on a deeply religious man, much more in a genuine dialogue with God rather than pronouncing what that dialogue was," Price says.

(Heller, by the way, previously starred in Goodspeed's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," and his Broadway credits include "Baby It's You" and "Victor/Victoria.")

"Fiddler" is, of course, about loss of tradition and loss of family.

Price says, "This production moves me in so many personal ways and is truthful in the depiction of a 'vanishing life,' coupled with the evolution of children moving out of their family of origin into their own family, perhaps one of procreation."

"Fiddler" also happens to be a neat fit with East Haddam's history.

In "Fiddler," Jews living in shtetls in Eastern Europe are forced off their land. In real life, a good number of people who went through that same situation came to America. Jewish philanthropists assisted those immigrants. The DeHirsch Family Foundation, for instance, was among those that helped them settle in as farmers. Among the most popular locales for that: Vineland, New Jersey; the Catskills in New York - and the area around East Haddam and Colchester.

These egg farmers formed what Price says could be described as modern-day shtetls, with newly created communities, synagogues and community centers.

East Haddam had about 40 of those farms, he says, and they became summer resorts along the lines of the Catskills. People from New York City would seek refuge in the country during the hottest months of the year.

One of those resorts in East Haddam was called Banner Lodge, owned by Jack Banner. Banner's cousin happened to be Zero Mostel - yes, the same actor who originated the role of Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" on Broadway. Mostel and his pal Jack Gilford, who were having trouble finding work because of the effects of the McCarthy hearings, both performed at Banner Lodge, Price says.

k.dorsey@theday.com

 

Adam Heller, as Tevye, and the rest of Goodspeed's
Adam Heller, as Tevye, and the rest of Goodspeed's "Fiddler on the Roof" cast rehearse. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

If you go

What: "Fiddler on the Roof"

Where: Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam

When: Through Sept. 7; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., and 2 p.m. Sun.; also, 2 p.m. on select Thursdays and 6:30 p.m. on select Sundays

Tickets: Start at $27, all prices subject to change based on availability

Contact: (860) 873-8668, goodspeed.org

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