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Miracle of miracles! ; FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Theatre RoyalA new version of Fiddler on the Roof features some interesting musical choices. Erik Petersen...

September 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Miracle of miracles! ; FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Theatre RoyalA new version of Fiddler on the Roof features some interesting musical choices. Erik Petersen learned about taking the musicians out of the pit and on to the stage

FOR musical director Sarah Travis, preparing for the new stage production of Fiddler On The Roof sometimes means a bit of bargaining with Craig Revel Horwood.

He's the director and choreographer. Normally that wouldn't matter much, except that for this production of Fiddler, they're using on-stage actor-musicians rather than a pit orchestra.

So when there's a big musical dance number, Sarah and Craig have to figure out how many people do the dancing and how many make the music.

With that comes a bit of compromise or possibly a bit of bartering, she says.

But in the end, the decision has to be based on what's best for storytelling.

If he needs that person more than me and it tells the story, that's the decision and I'll re-score accordingly.

A lot of my work during rehearsals is to re-score and re-voice things. That's all part of it. Sometimes it makes you be more imaginative - that's the real joy of it. You have to re-imagine it. You can't do a conventional staging.

That's part of the torture and part of the absolute joy or creating - that you have to reinvent. That said, Fiddler On The Roof is a beloved musical theatre masterpiece. The tale of the Russian Jewish peasant Tevye, his three rebellious daughters and a time of upheaval as the Tsar turns his cold eye on the Jews, offers music that Sarah respects and wants to treat respectfully.

I try to be as true to be as to the original score as possible, she says.

This Fiddler has as its Tevye Paul Michael Glaser - now 70 and with a bushy beard that renders him unrecognisable from his most famous role, Starsky in Starsky And Hutch.

Any choice that is made with the music comes out of a dramatic choice, a dramatic intention, Sarah says. I think that cuts right through the work. When we audition people, they are actors first. They are actor-musicians, not musician-actors. Since they're cast as actors, Sarah waits until the casting is done, then finds out who she's got and what instruments they're bringing.

I'm quite lucky with this line-up I have, she says. On some numbers, she can throw everybody at the music. Other times require more creativity.

With this I've gone with a sort of klezmer gypsy raw-type sound, she says.

You have to be a bit more inventive with the nature of the work. With a show like Fiddler, music's so inherent in their tradition, it's so much a part of their culture.

The famous wedding dance scene, for example, gets an extremely klezmer-based treatment. She believes that having musicians onstage also gives the audience a unique experience. The music is really at the heart of the piece, she says. When you see the show, you see the whole mechanism of how its played. Some shows work better with the actor-musician treatment than others.

By seeing the mechanics of people playing and singing at the same time ... you very much see the workings of it and that's where I love doing these shows.

For the audience, they see the mechanics of how the music is a major part of the experience. And the actors rise to the challenge. The bass player walks with his instrument in a harness, while the cellist also walks and moves at the same time.

We're asking them to do things you wouldn't normally expect, Sarah says. They could all in their own right probably play in a pit band.

We cast people with high-level skills. I wouldn't be able to teach somebody to play the sax or the clarinet. There's no point sending people off for lessons in the five-week rehearsal period we have. I haven't simplified anything in the score - and I very rarely need to.

Fiddler On The Roof is at the Theatre Royal from September 17 to 21. Tickets are Pounds 19 to Pounds 37.50. Book on trch.co.uk, 0115 989 5555 or at the box office.

'' You can't do a conventional staging. That's part of the torture and part of the absolute joy or creating - that you have to reinvent.

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