Guess who's coming to town, sporting a beard and perched on a rooftop?
Hint: It's not Santa.
It is the fiddler on the roof, that metaphoric character that drives the plot for the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. The production runs through Dec. 16 at Francis Wilson Playhouse.
"Fiddler on the Roof is the most ambitious show we've ever done to date," said Andy Rufo, president and general manager of the playhouse, now in its 83rd season. "We've spared nothing,"
The crew has brought a 1905 Ukrainian village to life by melding time-honored theatrical techniques with new state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems.
In a nostalgic nod to the theaters of yesteryear, the stage is "raked," meaning a second, temporary stage floor was built over the existing floor. It gently slopes upward in the back so audience members can better see all the cast members. This sloping stage is where the terms "upstage" and "downstage" came from.
Gabrielle Snapp, box office manager, shared a secret for keeping things quiet on the raised plywood platform.
"Underneath it's filled with rugs to muffle the sounds," she said.
In this production, the curtain never closes. Instead, the characters — dressed in muted colors to reflect their peasant heritage — place and remove props from the set through choreographed steps.
A new LED lighting system not only runs cool and saves electricity, but it allows for more natural-looking skin tones. It also provides options for a variety of colors, mood changes and special effects.
"The lighting is as much a part of this show as the music or choreography," Snapp said. "It's almost another character."
The prerecorded music is remarkable, too. Director Jason Tucker, a gifted musician, has conjured up the sounds of an entire orchestra (including the soulful fiddle sound) using only his piano, a synthesizer and a computer.
"We decided to do Fiddler because we know we can produce it properly and have the talent and expertise to pull it off," Snapp said.
Fiddler on the Roof, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein, opened on Broadway in 1964 and originally ran for nearly eight years. It was a record-breaking run at the time. The musical takes its name from the painting The Fiddler by Marc Chagall.
The musical won nine Tony Awards its first year. Popular songs include Matchmaker, To Life!, Sunrise, Sunset, and If I Were a Rich Man.
The fiddler symbolizes the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people, and, in particular, the main character Tevye. The weary milkman is struggling to raise a family on his meager pay while trying to instill religious traditions in his daughters. This amid changing social mores and the growing anti-Semitism of a Czarist Russia.
As Tevye, played by veteran actor Rand Smith, puts it, "In our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, 'Why do we stay up there if it is so dangerous?' We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? One word: tradition."
And with that, the cast performs the rousing production number Tradition, launching the three-hour performance.
"It's fabulous music that people worldwide know," Snapp said. "It's an American classic."