A fiddler on a roof may seem to have a uniquely precarious situation, but perhaps there are some universal parallels that can be drawn.
At least according to Tevye, the Jewish milkman hero of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” who believes that in his Russian village of Anatevka, “every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck.”
And the Montezuma-Cortez High School actors performing the show this coming week might agree. While the musical presented new cultural elements, the show has plenty of relatable themes and messages, students say.
“It’s going to be heartfelt, and it’s going to be a good time,” said Rachael Burson, who plays the part of Tevye’s wife, Golde. “It’s not just a fun thing to watch, it’s also got something to say. We have something to say with this production.”
“Fiddler on the Roof” follows the saga of Tevye and three of his daughters as they seek love and marriage, at times defying tradition and custom to do so. It takes place in a predominantly Jewish village in Russia a little after 1900, a turbulent time for those of Jewish faith as they faced persecution by the Russian government.
Nicholaus Sandner, M-CHS theater and show director, said the musical is one of his favorites, and he picked it this year because he finally had enough male students participating to tackle it.
The show is steeped in cultural elements, and the actors underwent a long learning process to inform their performance. Many students weren’t aware of the persecution of Jews happening around the turn of the 20th century, Sandner said.
“They’ve all heard of the Holocaust, but this was the precursor to all of that,” he said. “And so them making those sort of connections was really valuable.”
One student’s father came in to speak about Jewish culture and traditions to help the cast understand the belief system of their characters.
“Learning about the culture stuff is huge,” Sandner said. “There’s so much there, from the terminology to the way you carry yourself.”
Finding Russian peasant clothes locally presented a challenge, Sandner said. They ended up using a lot of brown scrubs.
The theater department took on an extra challenge with this show, asking the actors to speak in Yiddish and Russian dialects. In other productions, students could speak accented if they wished, but this time they used an online resource and had the whole cast try it.
Keeping the dialect through the musical numbers was tricky.
“Trying not to go back into your American accent, staying in the actual dialect,” said Ethan Golden, who plays the part of Motel, the tailor.
Musically, the score is one of the hardest the pit orchestra has played, with difficult key signatures, but the musicians rose to the challenge, said musical director Marla Sitton.
“The kids have all been super-prepared with their songs,” said Sitton, who is conducting the pit orchestra of about 20 students and community members. “And it’s just really come together.”
The musical is “bittersweet,” said Landin Taylor, who plays Tevye.
“I think the characters will really resonate with a lot of people in the audience,” he said. “They’re really relatable, and some situations are some that people face in their own life. Allowing change is really important to moving on as a society.”
Family is a strong theme too, from beginning to poignant ending, when the villagers are forced to leave their home, dispersing around the globe. Koral Jackson, who plays the role of Tevye’s oldest daughter, Tzeitel, said the students have worked to make the ending feel happy.
“It’s this really, really bittersweet moment, and it’s reflecting that change is good and that change is OK,” she said. “And that you’re always going to be there for each other. You’re always going to be there for your family, no matter where you are in the world.”
The cultural components add another layer to the show, said Thayer Plewe, who plays the Russian Fyedka. His favorite musical number is “To Life,” a wedding celebration in which the Jewish villagers are joined in dancing by the Russian soldiers.
“You see dancing, and you see a bunch of fun happening on the stage,” he said. “It’s kind of a unifying factor between two places that don’t get a lot of unification.”
Opening night is set for Friday, March 13, and the musical will run for two weekends.
Nighttime performances will take place in the M-CHS Ralph E. Vavak Memorial Auditorium at 7 p.m. March 13, 14, 20, and 21, and the two afternoon shows will happen at 2 p.m. March 14 and 21, also in the high school auditorium.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and free for children 5 and younger.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.mchsdrama.org.