By Mike LaBella
---- — It has memorable songs such as “If I We’re a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” all wrapped around a timeless story about family, love, tradition and faith.
Now, the Tony award-winning musical that once held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical is coming to the Rogers Center for the Performing Arts at Merrimack College.
The Acting Out! Theater Company Inc. will present four performances of “Fiddler on the Roof” featuring performers from throughout the region Feb. 15 at 7 p.m., Feb. 16 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 3 p.m. The show includes Haverhill residents Brandy Matthews, Brinn Kingsley, James Carrington, Jessica Begin, Lauren Elwell, Maggie Stokes, Nick Elwell, Peg DiGrazia and Sandra Vitti. Others in the show hail from Stoneham, Swampscott, Lynn and Middleton, as well as Freemont and Exeter, N.H.
Directed by Linda Schoonmaker, this popular musical is based on Sholem Aleichem’s short stories about a poor milkman named Tevye and his daughters, and is set in a poor Jewish village in Czarist Russia in the early years of the 20th century. The themes of tradition, family, love and marriage, regret and optimism are presented by honest, funny characters along with memorable songs like “Sunrise, Sunset,” “If I Were A Rich Man” and “Matchmaker.”
”It is a piece of historical fiction and many of our cast/crew members have their own stories to tell that mirror those in this rich musical theater piece,” Schoonmaker said.
The cast includes many families and friends, and that alone is a great reason to see the show, she said.
Schoonmaker of North Andover was inspired to bring the performance to the Merrimack Valley by the true-life stories of a local family like Tevye’s. Sandra Poole, technical advisor for the show, is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from what is present-day Ukraine. Poole would recount tales about her family’s life in the little village of Shepetovka and the journey to the United States.
“When I hear the music or see the play or the movie, I can picture how my grandparents lived, and it brings me back to that era,” Poole said. “Bringing it forward to my children and grandchildren have brought them to where I am, so they feel like I do.”
Poole’s daughter Jody Nichols is Acting Out’s choreographer.
“Growing up, all we heard were Broadway musical soundtracks in my house, and Fiddler was one that was played often,” said Nichols, also of North Andover. “I learned all the songs, and when I grew up, I would dance at weddings and bar mitzvahs. Hearing that music made me proud of my Jewish heritage.”
The power and importance of a show like this extends beyond remembering the past, Nichols said.
”Its message of tradition and illustration of the persecution of the Jews of Russia is important today, to those involved with Acting Out’s production,” she said. “The story of Fiddler, everyone should learn from it and know where we came from. All those things that happened in the story, that still happens today. If you don’t tell the story of what happened, people will forget and it will happen again. You always want to keep the story alive.”
Schoonmaker said there is a cohesiveness on stage that makes audience members believe they really are in Anatevka.
”Take the trip with us,” Schoonmaker said. “It is not just about seeing a show. It is an experience.”
The original 1964 Broadway production, with a cast including Zero Mostel and Beatrice Arthur, won nine Tony awards, including for best musical. It ran for eight years and was the first Broadway musical to surpass 3,000 performances.
“It’s a classic with a message,” Schoonmaker said. “I’m so happy that we decided to do it. It is one of our best yet!”
The Acting Out! Theater Company is a nonprofit organization based in Lawrence. For tickets or more information, visit online at www.actingouttheater.com or call 978-807-1191.