The way licensing rights to stage plays work, a community theater — even a school — is not usually permitted to put on a production of a show while it’s running on the Great White Way, if it’s located within a certain geographical radius. But the Drama Club at New Paltz High School (NPHS) got lucky last year: The opening of the revival of Fiddler on the Roof now up at Manhattan’s Broadway Theatre was postponed, and last April club advisor Nancy Owen was able to secure the rights for her students to mount the show this spring — concurrently with the Broadway production, as it turned out.
It’s real coup for Owen, who has a special affection for Fiddler. “It’s the first play that I did here completely on my own, 16 musicals ago,” she says. “I got to play Hodel when Frank Kraat directed it for 90 Miles Off Broadway, a long time ago.” She has been waiting for the right combination of high school actors to pull it off before reviving the beloved musical, and this year, she says, “I just had the right talent pool for it.”
It was Owen’s last chance to tap the talents of some Drama Club veterans who will be graduating NPHS in June, including Jeremy Brownstein (Tevye), Meaghan McElroy (Golde), Adam Joyner (Motel), Maddie Finnegan (Tzeitel) and Olivia Profaci (Hodel). The New Paltz Times was able to interview these core cast members, along with sophomore Gil Sweeney (Perchik) and freshman Abby Gravatt (Shprintze), at a rehearsal as the production gears up for its run from March 17 to 19.
Several of the students chose the word “iconic” to describe Fiddler on the Roof, authored by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein, which first opened on Broadway in 1964 and has been revived innumerable times since. Many of its klezmer-flavored songs — notably “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” — have joined the ranks of classic showtunes; and who hasn’t attended a wedding reception where the bride and groom danced with their parents to the strains of “Sunrise, Sunset”?
But the show’s extreme familiarity and popularity make it a double-edged sword for the Drama Club. While Fiddler may well sell out the NPHS auditorium, it also presents the young thespians with a challenge in making the material seem fresh for their audiences. “It’s intimidating doing this show because it’s done so often,” says Sweeney. “You have to make an impression on people with the same lines, the same music and the same jokes.” “Fiddler on the Roof has all these strong personalities, but everyone brings their own interpretation to it,” says McElroy. “It’s interesting to see a story you know put on in a new way.”
The son of Jewish parents who resonated strongly with the play, which is based on stories by Sholom Aleichem set in a shtetl in Russia in 1905, Brownstein jokes that he’s “Fiddlered out.” But he quickly adds, “I love the story and I love the show. I’ve seen so many productions… I grew up watching that movie. I’ve been trying to do the Tevye dance since I was five.” ‘I’m the opposite of Jewish,” McElroy chimes in. “As an Irish Catholic, with the show going up on St. Patrick’s Day, I’m not sure what I’m doing!”
But Brownstein praises McElroy’s ability to capture Golde’s “fierce” character, calling the entire ensemble “a large group of very talented young people.” “It’s such an immense task to manage 60 people at once. Every year, two weeks before, I’m convinced it’s not going to happen. But Nancy always pulls it together,” he continues. “I’ve never been so proud of a show that I’m in.”
Another word that comes up often when members discuss the NPHS Drama Club is “family.” Many a student has found it a supportive place to discover new skills and new friends, and each graduating class’s last spring musical is always a bittersweet moment. While not planning to major in Theatre Arts in college, McElroy says, “I’m looking at schools with a strong extracurricular drama program. I need my fix.”
Of this graduating class of student actors, only Joyner has his sights set on a theater-related career, with plans to pursue a degree in Creative Arts Therapy at Sage College. “This club made me think I want to do something like this the rest of my life: using acting to help people the same way acting has helped me,” he says. “In between shows I don’t know what to do with myself…Worst comes to worst, I would’ve quit my job to do this.”
Come enjoy the fruits of these talented young people’s commitment at the NPHS auditorium next week. The curtain goes up at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, March 17, 18 and 19, with tickets priced at $12 general admission and $10 for seniors and students. All tickets go for $8 at a special Saturday matinée performance beginning at 2 p.m., so you don’t have to be a rich man to catch the show! To reserve your seat, call (845) 256-4111.