Faith in a Changing World

Fiddler on the Roof tells a moving story of defiant love – and a community threatened by intolerance

By Claire Mastrangelo

“Do you hear that?” asks Donna Feore as a lone fiddle sounds over the phone. The melody has started playing from her laptop unprompted, as if out of nowhere. She takes a moment to turn it off before returning to her conversation about next year’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, which she is directing and choreographing for the Festival Theatre. “This is my process,” she says with a laugh. “I live with this music everywhere in my house.”

With some of the most memorable melodies in the musical theatre canon, Fiddler has been celebrated for decades for its moving score and profoundly affecting story – a story that is particularly resonant in a season that also includes Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice. It centres on Tevye (played by Scott Wentworth), a milkman who lives in the small Russian shtetl of Anatevka with his wife, Golde (Kate Hennig), and five daughters. As his three eldest marry further and further outside the parameters of Jewish tradition, Tevye must struggle to balance his sensibilities with those of the changing world – a world which soon poses a threat not just to him but to his entire village.

In these early days of planning for her production, Ms Feore has been immersing herself in her material – not only the script and music, but also historical research, books on Jewish art and the stories on which the Tony Award-winning musical is based. Between meetings with her designer, she converses with a professor of theology who has a deep-rooted background in Jewish studies.

One of the books on her table is about the modernist painter Marc Chagall. “Chagall grew up in the shtetl life,” she explains. “Boris Aronson, the show’s original designer, was a contemporary of his and was heavily influenced by his paintings when he created the world of Fiddler. Chagall will be an inspiration for us as well, but in a different way.”

The Festival Theatre’s thrust stage, conceived in the 1950s as a way of revolutionizing the performance of Shakespeare, is particularly well suited to this musical. “It features a central character who shares his thoughts alone, in communion with the heavens,” says Ms Feore. “Tevye is not unlike a Hamlet who stands out there and asks questions. He’s not only dealing with change and uncertainty within his family, he’s also dealing with uncertainty in the world around him.

“I think that’s why people are so moved by this piece. Life’s always changing. Like the fiddler on the roof, it’s unstable, and it’s about finding balance.”

Fiddler on the Roof is co-sponsored by Union Gas Limited. 

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