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“Fiddler on the Roof,” the classic musical by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein based on Sholom Aleichem's “Tevye and His Daughters,” has been revamped for a national Broadway tour, which hits the Wharton Center next week. Updated choreography, characters rooted closer to reality and new set make a bid to usher the classic into the modern age of musicals.
Carol Beaugard, on her first Broadway tour, plays Yente — the Matchmaker. Though typically a comic relief role, Beaugard says this incarnation sees the character become more grounded. She spoke with City Pulse via phone about the tour thus far.
“Fiddler on the Roof ” is an obvious 20th century classic. What does this production bring that’s fresh and new?
It’s very modern, yet it is still the classic play. And that’s thanks to Bartlett Sher, the director, and our choreographer Hofesh Shechter. For example, when we started the rehearsal process, Bartlett sat down with us and we talked extensively about the history of the shtetls and what was happening at the time in 1905 czarist Russia. That way we could really understand the people, the hierarchy within the village and what everybody’s day-to-day life was like.
We carried that, and all of that is reflected in the words and the actions. But the modernness of this production comes from the sets, which are a little bit sparser but still just as beautiful. The mood of the show is set through the scarce scenery and lighting design. The choreography is amazingly new and fresh. It’s based on Jerome Robbins’ classic choreography, but Hofesh really just gives the movement an authentic feel — it’s very exciting.
You are Yente, the Matchmaker, one of the more prominent characters in the hive mind of pop culture. How did you get into the role?
Yente is a classic role. She’s iconic in musical theater, because she’s very, very funny.
And actually, even though we make her funny, she’s a little bit more reality-based in our production. We don’t make her a caricature. For instance, we don’t use a heavy dialect or anything like that. We just let the words speak for themselves. She just comes off as a loving busybody and as someone who has everybody’s best intentions at heart. She’s really one of the heartbeats of the village.
In the village, the most important person was the rabbi. And second to the rabbi, the most important role was the Matchmaker. She guaranteed that marriages were successful, so there would be families and, obviously, the culture would continue. While she’s very warm and funny, there’s a lot of reality to her.
You have a background in radio, specifically bluegrass music. Does this passion for music help you adjust to the challenge of acting in a musical?
Music is really at the center of my life. And I actually started out as an actress, but then I changed careers. I went into radio, public relations and event planning. But music has always been a central theme. And I think the fact that I was involved in a musical genre that is traditional American gives me a deeper understanding of how the traditional music and lifestyle was so grounding and important to this culture.
You could really make the comparison of klezmer to any traditional music. I hear traditional music and something deep inside my heart starts beating passionately. And maybe that’s what helps me. It gives me that sensitivity.
“Fiddler on the Roof “ deals with issues of persecution. Do you think there’s any specific messages in this new tour that are relevant to the social climate of 2018?
Of course, absolutely. I mean that’s the wonderful thing about this show, and that is why its timeless. These themes were relevant back in 1905. They were in the Civil War; they were relevant during World War II. They continue to be relevant. People from all walks of life can relate to this story. First off, it has universal themes of love: love of family, love of children, lovely husbands and wives — love of neighbors. The message is one of hope and endurance —it’s something that everybody can learn from. It’s something that everybody can internalize and relate to. And the message is always, ‘Let’s work toward a better life.’
This run of “Fiddler on the Roof ” was in many national headlines thanks to racist remarks from a heckler in the audience. How did the cast and crew react to that?
It’s interesting, because when it happened we were totally unaware that anything had happened — it happened during intermission. We didn’t know anything about it until the following day, when we read about it on social media and in print. It was upsetting, but at the same time, we, the theater, had very intense security measures in place. They took care of it within three minutes. Our company takes great measures to ensure our safety and security as we’re traveling.
We were saddened by it, but we were also very heartened to know that people did not let that detract from their attending this show. We just are looking forward to continuing to entertain audiences all across the country. Hate is not our message. Our message is one of love and joy. That’s what we want people to experience.
“Fiddler on the Roof”
Runs Dec. 4-9 Tickets from $43 Wharton Center for Performing Arts www.whartoncenter. com (517) 432-2000