DIVA TALK: 50 Years of Fiddler Memories With Joanna Merlin, Adrienne Barbeau, Alfred Molina, Neva Small, Pia Zadora, Cheryl Stern and More

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23 May 2014

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Raising the Roof
An all-star benefit concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof, its Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick and the 100th anniversary of The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene will be presented June 9 at 7:30 PM at New York's The Town Hall. Co-conceived and co-directed by Fiddler vets Gary John La Rosa and Erik Liberman, Raising the Roof, which will feature renditions of classic Fiddler numbers by their originators and notable successors, will boast the talents of Topol, who created the role of Tevye on the London stage, reprised his role in the film and returned to Broadway with the role in 1990, as well as Joshua Bell, Frank London, Austin Pendleton, Jackie Hoffman Jerry Zaks, Andrea Martin, Peg Murray, Adrienne Barbeau, Liz Larsen, Louis Zorich, Pia Zadora, Fyvush Finkel, Joanna Merlin, Rosalind Harris, Neva Small, Sammy Dallas Bayes, Robert Berdeen, Duane Bodin, Joanne Borts, Mike Burstyn, Rachel Coloff, Maurice Edwards, Tanya Everett-Bagot, Michael J. Farina, Louis Genevrino, Lori Ada Jaroslow, Sandra Kazan, T. Doyle Leverett, Faye Menken-Schneier, Carolyn Mignini, Joe Ponazecki, Larry Ross, Carol Sawyer, Roberta Senn, Harriet Slaughter, Cheryl Stern, Mimi Turque-Marre and Lori Wilner, with additional guests to be announced.

In anticipation of the one-night-only event, several stars of Fiddler — on Broadway, on film, around the country and around the world — have offered recollections of their time in the musical, which is based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem and features a book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by the aforementioned Harnick. Enjoy these "Anecdotes from Anatevka." More to come in the next column!

(Also, NYT/Folksbiene has launched a social media campaign, asking readers to share their anecdotes about any production of Fiddler in which they may have appeared as well as a photo from the production. Go to twitter.com/folksbiene or facebook.com/folksbiene to share your own memories.)


Joanna Merlin

Joanna Merlin
Original Tzeitel, Fiddler on the Roof, 1964
I auditioned four times for Jerry Robbins' Broadway production of Mother Courage and Her Children in 1963. I didn’t get the role, but Jerry called me into his office in the fall of that year to talk about my auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof. I told him I was not much of a singer. I had only sung on a Broadway stage once and that was to play the lute and sing a Welsh folk song in Anouilh’s Becket with Laurence Olivier. Needless to say, I was more concerned about interacting with my scene partner than the quality of my singing. I told Jerry I did not have a trained voice and had never sung with an orchestra. He assured me that would not be a problem.

He wanted me to audition for the role of Hodel - a legitimate soprano! I went to a singing teacher to prepare for the audition and learned some songs in the soprano range. Shockingly, Jerry brought me back six times even though my vocals were hopeless, I felt quite embarrassed every time I auditioned. I knew I sounded terrible, but Jerry was determined to find a way to cast me. He arranged for me to work with Jerry Bock, the composer, and Sheldon on Hodel’s song, “Far From the Home I Love,” which I sang at my seventh audition. It was clear I couldn’t sing it. I knew it, Jerry and Sheldon knew it. Then Jerry Robbins did something unheard of for a Broadway director of his stature. He said he would come to my next voice lesson to hear everything I was singing.

So, on a rainy day in November, we met at the studio of Carmine Gagliardi, my singing teacher, at 71st and Broadway. I sang several songs Carmine and I had worked on. When I finished singing a song from Irma La Douce, which was in an alto range, Jerry looked excited and said, “Sing that song at your next audition!” I was relieved as that range was less painful than my wavery soprano. At my eighth audition, I sang the song and Jerry and Sheldon (Harnick) shot up from their seats in the theatre and one or the other shouted, “She has a chest voice! She can play Tzeitel!”

That moment changed the course of my life. Not only was Fiddler historic, and an honor to be in the original cast, but I got to know Hal Prince, who produced Fiddler. The year after the opening, I had to leave the show because I was four-and-a-half months pregnant. The wardrobe department had reached their limit in letting out my wedding dress. Four years and two children later, Hal called me, out of the blue, and asked me to be his casting director. I cast the replacements for the last two years of the Broadway run of Fiddler. (Odd casting my own part!) Hal was in the middle of casting Company. This was the golden period of Prince-Sondheim musicals, and after completing the casting on Company, I did the original casting on Follies, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, and other shows including Evita. After 14 years with Hal, I began casting films for Merchant Ivory as well as for Bernardo Bertolucci’s "The Last Emperor." None of this would have happened if Jerry Robbins had not come to my singing lesson.


Adrienne Barbeau

Adrienne Barbeau
Hodel, Fiddler on the Roof (Replacement, Original Broadway Company)
Fiddler on the Roof was my first Broadway show; the first job I had on stage that was going to last longer than a three-month summer-stock run. I signed a one-year contract. At the end of my first week in the show, I took my paycheck and my contract to the accounts department at Bloomingdale’s and applied for my first-ever credit card. They gave it to me. I was a working actress.


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