by Molly Smith, Artistic Director and Director of Fiddler on the Roof
“God would like us to be joyful, Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.”
—From the song To Life
When I think of Fiddler on the Roof I think of the precarious nature of being alive twinned with joy. What a moment to be producing this wondrous musical—as we live in a time when the world is cracking apart.
As one of the gold-standard musicals, this musical demands to be reinterpreted for each generation. Why now? As traditions are being upheld or changed or dismantled in the world, from same-sex marriage to the possibility of a female president in America, we can rejoice in our ability to change radically and to preserve traditions.
This story focuses on the idiosyncratic beauty of human nature: the tyranny and joy of families, tradition, love, marriage, community, immigration, anti-Semitism, racial and cultural hatred. Gold-standard musicals live on because they are about important ideas and demand to be interpreted over and over again. All of these themes are operating at full tilt in our world today and Fiddler takes each one head on. This is a musical that has been done in virtually every country of the world, from China to Japan to Egypt.
I am constantly moved by the music from Fiddler on the Roof — from “Sunrise, Sunset” to “Tradition,” I find myself full of emotion responding to the music and lyrics. A few months ago my long-time partner Suzanne and I were married after almost 24 years together. On the days when I was exhausted from planning the wedding, work at Arena and prepping this production, I would get in the car and drive home with the score blaring over and over again — it filled me — as it has filled literally millions of people all over the world since its creation 50 years ago.
Many of you know I often cast in a cross-cultural way because I believe this is the world we live in. For Fiddler on the Roof, I was very interested in casting in a culturally specific way — through the Jewish and Russian point of view. In this way we go from the individual to the universal. As Sheldon Harnick said: “What Fiddler did was show that basically Jews are just like everybody else.”
Today we will create a real community on stage and share all the full-bodied life and emotion that are in these stories and this music. Theater-in-the-round is about community — we are always looking across the stage to see and respond with our neighbors, and the Fichandler Stage is the most dynamic theater in the round in this country.
Thank you for joining our shtetl, and l’chaim — to life.