News Column

Classic musical 'Fiddler on the Roof' begins run

September 5, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 05--At its heart, "Fiddler on the Roof" is a story about family, or more precisely, family love.

That family love is the engine driving Stockton Civic Theatre's production of the classic musical that opens Friday and runs through Sept. 29.

"We're all working really hard to create family atmosphere," said Andrea Daste, who plays Golde, wife of Tevye and mother of five daughters. "All seven of us in main family are ridiculously close, and it's permeated the rest of the chorus. It's the most fun, loving environment and it shows how much we love each other."

"Fiddler" marks the return to musicals after a self-imposed three-year hiatus for Daste, 32, because of more personal family ties.

"My father passed away, and he was always the big, driving force for me, especially for musicals," Daste said. "I'd get amped up for singing auditions and he'd go over the music. Losing him, unexpectedly and quick, at 54, was just so hard. I did 'Oklahoma!' right after, and it was a terrible experience. I needed to step away and get me in order. I needed to heal. Being on stage was painful."

Musicals brought back too many memories, of sitting with her dad watching one musical after another on television.

Walter Daste liked a good musical with a happy ending. The father of two worked as a groundskeeper for Stockton Unified School District. He wanted to be amused and feel good for a couple of hours when he watched a movie or play.

"Fiddler" doesn't exactly fit that bill. It's the story of change through the life of Tevye, a milkman in a small Russian village in 1905. He's confronted by his three eldest daughters wanting to marry for love, not have their father select a man. The story is told against the backdrop of Russian anti-Semitism.

Daste was coaxed into returning for a musical audition by director Jim Coleman, who told her Golde didn't sing or dance much.

"I showed up for auditions and ... Golde's got 10 songs and three dance numbers and is in every scene with Tevye," Daste said.

She auditioned anyway, and won the lead in the 61st production of her theater life, which began when she was 8.

For Martin Lehman, who is part of his second SCT production, having portrayed the judge in "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," there were no surprises when he auditioned for Tevye. He even began growing out his beard two months before the audition in hopes of landing the part.

"It's a deeply personal show for me," said Lehman, 32. "I played Tevye in a youth production many years ago. It's a role I've been dreaming about playing as an adult. I just feel the character so deeply inside me. It's a dream role for me, the kind of role I could got out on a tour with and never get tired."

He was 19 when he played the part in a children's theater group in his hometown of Vista, and he needed a fake beard to pull off the role. Since then he moved north, graduated from University of the Pacific with a degree in theater, and now works there as Instruction Media Coordinator for the center for teaching and learning.

The difference for him taking on the part now is "life experience."

"Tevye has the weight of the world on his shoulders," Lehman said. "He's solely responsible for the well being of his family, his daughters. As a teenager I could only guess what that was like. I was living at home and looked at my father and drew inspiration. Now, as an adult paying my own bills, doing everything on my own, I better understand. I don't have kids, but I can imagine with the added stress, how much responsibility you'd feel."

To understand that, Lehman still looks to his own father, Jeff Lehman, a piano technician who supported his wife, a housekeeper, and four children by tuning, repairing and taking care of all manner of pianos.

"He was always very positive," Lehman said. "You could tell he was out working, because he needed to provide for the family, not necessarily because it was what he loved to do. He wasn't necessarily passionate about it."

In the end, though, Lehman has had to create his own image of Tevye.

"For me the show is a reflection of how we were raised," Lehman said. "My parents gave us the freedom to make our own choices. They never told us we had to be doctors or go to law school. My sister and I are the only two who graduated from college. My other brothers found their own way without it. They didn't pressure them to be anything other than what they wanted to be. Ultimately, that's what 'Fiddler' is about. Tevye struggles mightily to get his daughters to adhere to tradition. Then he realizes they're young, modern children and he has to adjust to suit their best interests."

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or lgilbert@recordnet.com.

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