"It's funny," said John Cariani, the former Motel the Taylor in Fiddler on the Roof who is now making his Central Park debut as an actor, "because on Fiddler on the Roof all three of the creators were all there, and here they're all here again. When you have a question, you can go straight to the source."
The musical was famously—or infamously, depending on how you look at it—created by the trio of men while Public Theater founder Joseph Papp was out of town on vacation. The original intention had been to add a few new songs to the Bard comedy and shape the text a bit. By the time Papp attended a rehearsal, however, the show boasted three dozen new tunes, and a highly politicized adaptation by Shapiro and Guare, referencing Vietnam and other topical issues. If the producer was upset, his fury was no doubt tempered by positive audience and critical reaction, a transfer to Broadway and a couple Tony Awards.
Renee Elise Goldsberry—who plays Silvia, daughter of a war-mongering Duke and love interest of Norm Lewis' Valentine—said the authors sometimes share stories from that fervent era, but only "from what they can remember," she said, chuckling, "because there might have been a slight drug haze going on at the time. But the best part is when their eyes light up, when you feel that what you're showing them is what they actually dreamed of."
"I have a feeling that we're so clean," added Cariani. "It was a much more tumultuous time back then. I feel like we're so straight-laced."
Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall has been a big fan of the show since her teenage years. When Oskar Eustis called her and asked if she'd like to stage the new production, she "screamed, I was so happy. It's the best phone call I've ever gotten. I just love the show. Actually, a year ago I said to John Guare that I'd love to direct it—where can we do it, when can we do it? I had seen it done back in my hometown of Pittsburgh way back in the '70s. There was a great little funky summer stock company called the Odd Chair Playhouse that did all the cool things. One summer this did Two Gentlemen of Verona." Guare and MacDermot felt comfortable with Marshall. At Encores!, she had directed MacDermot's Hair and worked with Guare on Babes in Arms.
Marshall said she has tried to be faithful to the original intentions of Guare, Shapiro and MacDermot's creation. "The music tells me what to do with the choreography," she said. "We've got Latin-influenced songs, there's a little bit of '70s funk. This show lives in several eras. This is the 2005 production of a 1971 musical that takes place in Renaissance Italy. You want to reference all of these periods."
As for the political nature of the piece, she said Guare has made only a few changes to the text. Otherwise, "It's frighteningly prescient. There a song about a war overseas and bringing all the boys back home, and why they're all there in the first place. There's a line Silvia says about 'this vain and foolish war my father uses for his own ends.' When I read that in the script, I couldn't believe it. When we do bring all the boys back home these first couple of previews, the audience has applauded."