A Fiddler on the Roof… at the Alhambra

fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no?

This is the opening line to one of the longest-running and most-revived musicals in Broadway history.  Based on a set of stories written in Yiddish (a cross mostly between German and Hebrew) by Sholom Aleichem, it is based on Aleichem’s personal experiences in their small town near what is now Kiev between 1894-1914.  The first movie was made in the 1930s and the first musical in the late 1950s.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF finally saw the light of Broadway in 1964, with Zero Mostel originating the role of Tevye.  It broke the first record for the number of productions.  This is one of few shows where a lead has been dominated by one or two actors:  Zero Mostel and Chaim Topol (who originated the role in Israel and the UK and starred in the film).  With the exception of one revival, these two gentlemen owned the role in both the US and UK from 1964-2004.  A few other notables from the original US production include Burt Convy (Perchik), Michael Granger (Lazar Wolf), Beatrice Arthur (Yente), and as a replacement for Tzeitel – Bette Middler.  Some big shoes to fill!

So why here at the Alhambra, and why now?  Tod Booth, who is stepping into the role of Tevye, replied that they have tried to get the rights before, but FIDDLER ON THE ROOF‘s popularity with tours and revivals got in the way (they restrict rights when a show is touring or on Broadway).  It also seems particularly relevant with what is happening in the Ukraine, according to Jessie Booth, who is directing the show.  In fact, while researching the show, it became very apparent to Jessie that, while this is set in the Jewish culture, the story of families being exiled from their land is universal across continents and cultures.

With Jessie Booth directing and Tod Booth as Tevye – why not make a show about family a family affair?  Lisa Valdini-Booth rounds it out as Tevye’s wife, Golde.  It is a large cast of at least 20, most of whom are local to Jacksonville.  Several portray both sides of the conflict, which creates challenges with aging up and aging down on top of costume changes.

(Tevye, Golde, and their five daughters – from bottom left to right: Tatum Matthews, Emma Decker, Sofia Smith, Natalie Drake, Sarah Warshavsky, Tod Booth, Lisa Valdini Booth)

They are not going easy on this cast from what I saw (Tod Booth says he needs a nap and an ice bath after rehearsals – in that order).  This is a big musical in a small space.  They are focusing on the relationships, but they are recreating the culture, including a lot of choreography.  If you’ve never seen a “bottle dance”, you’re in for a treat!

I was given a preview of the opening number, “Tradition”.  They have a very talented group who already sound phenomenal and look solid as a team.  While I didn’t get to see any of the trappings, I did get to see the set sketches, and Jessie has a lovely design for their challenging stage.  I am very excited to see this show.

If you don’t already have tickets, you will want to make your reservations soon.  The show is already 70% sold out, and other shows have been completely sold by opening night.  FIDDLER ON THE ROOF runs August 3rd – Sept 17, 2023, at the Alhambra Theatre, 12000 Beach Blvd., June 8-July 30, 2023.  Ticket prices vary based on show and seating.  For reservations, go to alhambrajax.com or call (904) 641-1212.

By Cessy Newmon

About Cessy Newmon