Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Tradition! A mixture of beliefs and “this is how it has always been done.”
For the small Jewish community of Anatevka, its traditions are challenged in the face of progress throughout the theatrical classic, “Fiddler on the Roof,” which is being performed by the Dassel-Cokato community theater this summer.
“This long-running Broadway hit is filled with humor, romance, charming characters, thought-provoking ideas, and marvelous familiar tunes,” stated director Dave Metcalf. “It is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.”
With a cast of about 55 people, this will be the first time the show has been done by the community theater.
It was presented about 30-40 years ago by high school students of both DC and Howard Lake, when the schools combined their theater programs in order to have enough students to put on productions.
This partnership lasted 20 years, and Metcalf directed their “Fiddler” as a member of the Howard Lake School District.
He has performed in the musical about three times as various characters, and his wife, Linda, has also been in it three times. In previous years, Linda has played “Golde,” the main character’s wife. This year she will be performing as “Yenta,” the village matchmaker.
Most of the cast members are from the DC area, but individuals from several other communities have joined the show, including some from Buffalo, Annanadale, Waverly, Lester Prairie, and Hutchinson.
“I’m always excited to work with the cast. The people are so much fun. We have a great time,” Metcalf commented. “They’re just so darn talented.”
With each show Metcalf directs, it is of equal importance that the people on stage are enjoying themselves as much as the people in the seats.
“Fiddler” is one of those well-known shows many hold dear to their hearts, and Metcalf is no exception.
“I love it,” he stated. His personal story with “Fiddler” goes back to his college years, when he went to see the touring company of the production at the Orpheum Theater. At that time, he was taking a class in set design, and one of its requirements was to see how a show did its stage work.
After the performance, Metcalf, along with his wife and another couple, went backstage to get permission to have a tour of the set. They were welcomed in, but asked to wait for the stage manager before exploring.
They sat waiting for a long while, before a gentleman asked them if they were being helped. The group repeated why they were there, only to learn that the stage manager had left for a party.
This man, however, was more than willing to show them around.
It was Paul Lipson, the original “Lazar Wolf,” the village butcher, in the musical’s first production. By that time, he was performing as the lead “Tevye,” after Zero Mostel dropped out of the role.
As the group was having its tour with Lipson, they asked if he was headed to the same party as the director. He said he was, but that the party would wait for him.
“It’s my birthday. It’s my party,” Metcalf remembers him saying, and that Lipson assured the group that he did not mind taking the time to be with them and show them around.
“I had loved the play already, but that nice gesture really cemented the feeling,” Metcalf said. “That’s kind of the atmosphere of the play people just kind of caring for each other.”
Just as Metcalf experienced that musical element in his first exposure to it, he continues to see its themes’ relevance to today.
“There’s a conflict people can relate to prejudice on a large scale, which is, sadly, always in the news,” Metcalf stated.
“We hear the bombast being spouted about ‘send these people out of our country’ now, and that’s really an essential element in this show, because [during] pre-World War I Russia, before the revolution, [the Jews] were sent into exile, just for being Jewish.”
The musical is scheduled to open Friday, July 22, and will run for two weekends.
“I hope people will come to see it, and enjoy it,” Metcalf commented. “It’s a family-friendly show there’s not an objectable thing in the whole show. I think there’s a lot of moral lessons to be learned from it.
Tickets are now on sale in the Dassel-Cokato Community Education office, can be purchased online at dc.k12.mn.us/pac, by phone at (320) 285-4120, or at the ticket booth the night or afternoon of each performance.