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Magic In The Music: Playhouse Set For Fiddler On The Roof

Siggi Ragnar
Fiddler on the Roof

The Playhouse is staging one of the most loved plays in the history of Broadway. The music from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ has become imprinted on the American consciousness.

“’Fiddler on the Roof’ is a wonderful story of a man’s journey through the changes of tradition in Russia in his Jewish village back in 1905.”

Lee Cusenbary is directing ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ The story is built around its central character, Tevye, who’s exceptionally traditional, as he sings.

“That I can tell you in one word — Tradition!”

Lee Cusenbary continues.

“It’s a real journey for everyone in the show, all the characters, and they all stay together as a family of course, and have a lot of love and devotion to each other. And through all of that we hear a lot of great music and see a lot of great dancing.”

So what is it about Fiddler that’s given it relevance to people and places so far removed from rural Jewish Russia in 1905?

“That’s a wonderful question. The reason Fiddler is so popular worldwide is because that story of family and love and faith and devotion to your family is universal.”

To underscore its universality as a play, Cusenbary has this story.

“The most attended musical in the history of Japan is ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ It’s been produced over and over and over again. And some Japanese people say it’s about them. It’s not about Jews in Russia.”

The music for Fiddler is especially touching.

“The music is interesting, because unlike a lot of Broadway shows, it has a life of its own. Songs like ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ and ‘If I Were a Rich Man,’ they’re on everyone’s minds, they have a life of their own. And you can actually hear 30 different versions, on the radio, or, on records, for the last 50 years. The song ‘If I Were a Rich Man,’ [was] even done by Gwen Stefani as a pop record.”

As it turns out, the Broadway show set pieces were designed by a pair of San Antonians, the Gilliams.

“The sets look kind of like a Chagall painting. Steve and his wife Sam Gilliam took that inspiration of Chagall’s swirling lines of color, and small, Jewish symbols and put them in the set of the show.

The Playhouse is using the Gilliam sets for their production too.

“So when you see ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ you’re going to see a lot of art, basically.”

“Yeah, I think the music is just amazing.”

Fiddler on the Roof just started, and has a varied run through Dec. 22. We’ve more here

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii