Stars of Summer: Goodspeed's Fiddler on the Roof Star Elizabeth DeRosa on Hiking Trails and the Charm of Small Towns

Playbill.com catches up with Elizabeth DeRosa, starring as Hodel in the Goodspeed Opera House production of Fiddler on the Roof, which continues through Sept. 12.

Elizabeth DeRosa
Elizabeth DeRosa

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After spending three and a half years understudying the role of Mary Poppins on Broadway, Elizabeth DeRosa decided to take a break from the big city. This past February, the New Jersey native gave up her New York apartment to star as the sugar-dispensing Disney heroine at Wisconsin's Fireside Theatre. She is now spending her summer in East Haddam, CT, playing Hodel, Tevye's righteous second-eldest daughter in the Goodspeed Opera House's production of Fiddler on the Roof. So far, DeRosa's been enjoying the time away from the pressures of city life by going on hikes, picking berries and observing a family of Ospreys that, along with the cast of Fiddler, has taken up residence in the Connecticut River town. As Mary Poppins would say, DeRosa's summer is turning out to be "practically perfect in every way."

DeRosa chats with Playbill contributor Whitney Spaner about landing her dream summer job, bonding with her Fiddler castmates and the popularity that comes with being one of the only members of the cast with a car.

Is this your Goodspeed Opera House debut?
EDR: Yes, but I have wanted to work here for years. It's so beautiful and you're in the country, away from the city, but we're close enough to go back if we have to or just to visit. It's the most perfect summer job that I could have, honestly. For the past two seasons I have tried to get appointments to work here through my agents but when I saw that they were doing Fiddler this summer, I knew there was a part for me, so I thought, "I'm just going to go to cold call this year," and I booked a lead role. That's what's awesome about Equity: They have to have these calls and people book work from them.

How does it feel to be out of New York City for the summer?
EDR: If you ask around, you will definitely get mixed reviews, but personally where I am in my life, I am absolutely happy to be out of the city. And it's not that intimidating because you can head back if you have an audition or something comes up, so there's less of an, "Oh my God, I'm in Wisconsin," which is where my last job was. I was playing Mary Poppins in Wisconsin from February to April, but before that I was in Mary Poppins for three and a half years so I hadn't been out of the city in a very long time. Now I am thoroughly enjoying my time out of there. It's lovely. As an actor, is there a lot of pressure to book jobs in the summer?
EDR: There is, and auditions for the summer season happen in February and March, when I was in Wisconsin. I found out I had this job, which is one of the most coveted summer positions, in February, so when I was in Wisconsin I could relax and not have to worry about finding a summer job. There were plenty of things I would have auditioned for, but I would have been working every single day putting something on tape and I didn't have to do any of that. I don't have my next job after this so I'm doing a little more right now, but, like I said, I'm close to New York so it's not so stressful.

Barrie Kreinick and Elizabeth DeRosa in Fiddler on the Roof
Photo by Diane Sobolewski

How are you enjoying East Haddam?
EDR: This town is so charming. It has two restaurants, one wine and beer store, a post office and an ice cream scoops shop — and that's it. It's really, really cute, but it's pretty remote. To get to the town you have to go over this gorgeous old-fashioned swing bridge. The theatre is right on the river on the other side of the bridge, so when you look out the windows in the hallway going from the stage towards the dressing rooms, it feels like you're on a cruise ship. All you can see is water. There's this Osprey nest on the top of the bridge and one of the women in the show has binoculars, so we've been watching these birds grow. It's so silly, but it's so cool, too. What do you do in town when you're not performing?
EDR: On days off I've gone kayaking and hiking a few times, and we've gone to the beach. There's so many beautiful spots. There's this gorgeous hiking area with these waterfalls that we've all gone swimming in. I'm getting my Girl Scout badge for hiking! Tomorrow we're going to go to a local farm and pick blueberries and raspberries. It's so nice to relax and be able to do stuff like that. When you're in the city it's go, go, go, like, "I need to go to this class and meet this casting director and then I need to go to ballet and jazz the next day." You're sort of off the hook when you're not in the city, and you can do things like spend an afternoon picking raspberries.

Tell us a little bit about your living situation.
EDR: [The cast] literally lives in a village together. There are these beautiful six-room houses where we all have our own rooms. Every house is the same, and when you walk into them all the furniture and the art work is the same. Everything's the same, so it's a little like the Twilight Zone, but it's such nice housing and it's so cute the way they designed it. Sometimes people will be doing yoga together on the lawn, and there's a grill behind one of the houses where people get together. You do your laundry in the main house and they have a weekly sign up to go grocery shopping. It really is remote. You have to have a car to go anywhere, but luckily I was able to borrow a car from my family for the summer, so I can go over the bridge and drive 20 minutes to go food shopping.

You must be very popular since you have a car!
EDR: I am! Everyone's always like, I want to go to the gym tomorrow! And I'll text everybody to go to the gym and then one of five of them will actually show up.

DeRosa with Mark Ledbetter in Mary Poppins

That's a lot of time to spend with your castmates. Has there been any offstage drama?
EDR: You do have your moments, which is inevitable — we're living together, working together and playing together, but there's just something really beautiful about that bond that you make too. It's not like a 'Real World' thing where we end up hating each other. And I don't know about all shows, but in a show like Fiddler, where we live in Anatevka in 1905, I think [living together] really enriches our performance and helps the aura of the show. And it's really mixed ages so it could have been not as gelled as we are. There's 22 year olds, there's 30 year olds, there's 40, 50, 60 — the whole stretch, so luckily we are having a good time together. Do you interact with many of the locals?
EDR: There's this beautiful restaurant called the Gelston House right next door to the Goodspeed, and so you sort of meet locals there if you go out for a drink. I don't go out that often, but the times that I have, everyone's polite, but we definitely stay in our circle. There's not a huge mesh that is happening but the bartenders and waiters in the restaurant all sort of know us and they give us a discount and are really kind to us.

Has the cast developed a fanbase in East Haddam?
EDR: The theatre is a really small space, so when you leave it's not like you come out the back side of the street like in New York. You're right with all the people. On my way out today there was a car going by and they all started yelling out the windows, "Hodel you were so amazing!" It was like a teenage girl with her parents. That was really sweet. And [Abdiel Vivancos] who plays Perchik is gathering a following of teens in the area. He's got these girls trying to follow him on Facebook and stuff. He's like the heartthrob of East Haddam. It's really cute.

Do you try and stay in touch with your friends in the city?
EDR: I make phone dates with people and if I come to the city for an audition I will try and see my closest pals, but it's only four months. There's so many jobs over the summer across the country, so everyone's coming and going and then you get back to your New York City lifestyle in September or October.

Are you planning on heading back to the city when Fiddler closes in September?
EDR: My goal right now is to work regionally for a little while and it's actually working out. I figured it would be a good way to get those leads on my resume. Playing a lead in New York is the end goal, but that being said, I just love what I do and I want to work. If that means I have to go to Wisconsin, that's where I'll go. I think I can say that because I spent so much time settled in New York on a Broadway show. I'm not married and I don't have children, so I don't mind taking a break from the city. I know that I'll be back. The city is always going to be there, and there's always going to be Broadway shows.