June 6, 2002
Relevant on the Roof
To life, to life, l'chaim!
The famous musical, "Fiddler on the Roof," which celebrates life and Jewish family tradition during turbulent times, is coming to town, and what better time than now?
Originally written by Shalom Aleichem and turned into a film by Joseph Stein and Norman Jewison in 1971, "Fiddler" has withstood the test of time. What happened in the Jewish ghetto of Anatevka, Russia, in 1904 is representative historically of the persecution Jews have faced, from the Nazis in World War II to the ascending tension in the Middle East between the Israelis and Palestinians today. The play is a celebration of togetherness and perseverance; fighting for Jewish pride and keeping the faith even when there is little left to believe in and no one else to turn to.
Marla Gam-Hudson, director of the upcoming play at the Huntington Beach Playhouse agrees. "Every day I listen to the radio and find moments of the play that I relate to the current situation in Israel. This play has lasted for so long because of the passion that all of these characters have, from the villagers to Tevye and his family, to the constable and his band of men. They are all fighting for their homeland. It even applies here with 9/11," she says. "I think 'Fiddler' is a simple yet universal story about people finding balance in their lives. This is what the fiddler represents." Tevye must learn to balance his personal religious beliefs and his love for his daughters, who have strayed from the tradition by marrying the men of their choices.
According to Gam-Hudson, "Fiddler" has appealed to everyone regardless of race or religion. It just so happens that the play is based on the struggles of a poor Jewish man and his family, but could easily relate to the story of a Muslim, Methodist or Buddhist. "It is a universal story about people finding balance in their lives and their determination to survive in difficult situations. The Jews in the pogrom are brave for standing up for their beliefs and integrity, but then Romeo and Juliet did the same thing as did the Greeks and Romans," she says. "We find that part of our soul that allows us to see past the differences and find out in how many ways we are all the same."
Gam-Hudson's family came to America after being exiled from Prussia shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Born in Los Angeles and now residing in Orange County, Gam-Hudson teaches theater at California State University Northridge and is the producing artistic director for the New Voices Playwright's Theater at the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills. She has directed more than 200 plays since age 17, and at age 6 she auditioned for a tour with Zero Mostel, famous for playing Tevye on stage, and regrets not accepting the part. When she was 18, she contemplated the idea of becoming a rabbi but instead attended Cal State Fullerton, where she received her master's.
Attempting to bring her personal journey into the production, Gam-Hudson says, "I am at a place in my life now where I am finding a great deal of peace, joy, beauty and love. This story is the encapsulation of all those things."
Tevye will be played by Tim Nowiki of Redondo Beach, who according to Gam-Hudson is a triple threat with his ability to act, sing and dance. Nowiki has played the part before.
Traditionally, most productions of "Fiddler" use dull costume colors to represent poverty and exile. However, Gam-Hudson will use bright colors to symbolize life. "This is an idealized version that will use color to highlight the emotional levels of the story and its characters," she says.
Yet, throughout history, from the slaves in ancient Egypt up until today's conflict in Israel, regardless of the freedom and lives lost, Jews have always found a way to bounce back and prevail. Tevye and his family could not fight the approaching army, so, just as Gam-Hudson's family had done in Prussia, they flee to America in search of a better future.
"They all head off not in different directions but in the one direction that God tells them there is hope for a future," she says. "America was the hope, and I think, still is."