Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Community Theatre - Part Five

Yesterday the world remembered the first time men set foot on the lunar surface, 40 years after that event took place on July 20, 1969.

Today a smaller number of people -- perhaps as small as one, but I hope more than that -- mark the 30th anniversary of the final performance of Fiddler on the Roof by St. Bernard's Studio Theatre in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, on July 21, 1979.

On previous occasions, I have posted photos and video of other St. Bernard's productions that I was involved in -- Meredith Willson's The Music Man (in two parts), Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend, and The Fantasticks -- and one production from before my participation, Hello, Dolly!

Our Fiddler on the Roof was, in a way, a 15th anniversary production, since the original Broadway show had been produced in 1964 with stars Zero Mostel, Beatrice Arthur, and Maria Karnilova. We didn't think of it that way, however; we made it our own.

I have so many memories of St. Bernard's Fiddler that I don't know where to begin.

Like how I ended up (I still don't know how) sharing the principal women's dressing room: Just me (as Motel Kamzoil, the tailor) along with Golde, Yente, Tzeitel, Chava, Hodel, Sprintze, and Bielke. And nobody raised an eyebrow.

Or that we were performing in an un-air-conditioned school gymnasium during the dog days of summer, dressed like peasants during a Russian winter -- and dancing in those heavy clothes, to boot!

Or how this was perhaps the most glaringly goyishe production of Fiddler on the Roof in history. (None of the men, except for the two actors portraying Tevye, wore beards. And nobody, to be sure, wore forelocks.) There was even a crucifix hanging in the boys' dressing room! At least we all kept our heads covered.

This beardlessness resulted in, for instance, the rabbi (played by John T. Lynch) looking more like a Catholic priest officiating at Motel and Tzeitel's (that is, mine and Patty Fricke's) wedding than he looked like a, well, a rabbi.

There could be one competitor to our vanilla version of Fiddler on the Roof: the Arkansas community theatre production of Fiddler, once described to me by Tim Hulsey, in which Tevye narrates in an unmistakable Southern drawl. At least the good people of Wauwatosa could speak in the vaguely mitteleuropäische dialect so typical of Wisconsin. ("Tzeitel, come here one time." "Tevye's cow is lame again, aina hey?")

Last year I found an audio cassette recording of one of the performances of Fiddler; I think it was our charity show on Wednesday, July 18. I integrated part of that audio with a slideshow and posted it to YouTube. Unsurprisingly -- given the limited scope of interest in photos of a 30-year-old community theatre production of a classic Broadway musical -- there have only been 77 views on YouTube since I posted it htere last summer. Nonetheless, for the sake of history and of those who were there, here it is:

The St. Bernard's production of Fiddler was reviewed by The Milwaukee Journal, on the front page of the Accent (lifestyle and entertainment) section:

Looking back at the photographs from that summer (when I was, gasp, 20 years old) brings back many happy memories. (That despite the gasoline shortages, hyperinflation, and general sense of malaise that most people recall when they think of 1979.) Here are a few extracted from the video slideshow.

That should give you a good idea of what a shtetl looks like in Wauwatosa.

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1 comment:

Walloon said...

All that is missing from this Wauwatosa shtetl is a publicity photo of a fiddler atop the cupola of Dittmar-Robertson Building.