Fiddler on the Roof by Sarah Sallee

Fiddler on the Roof brings the culture of Jews in 1905 to life and showcases the importance of tradition and the bonds of community. It is thus fitting that the bonds of community can be seen both on and off stage with our Santa Catalina cast for this production. The original Fiddler on the Roof musical is based on tales and stories by Sholem Aleichem, titled Tevye and His Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman), which describe the difficulties of maintaining Jewish cultural and religious traditions in a constantly changing world. The musical particularly highlights the challenges many Jews in the 20th century faced when they were forced to leave their lifelong homes in Russia due to a difference in cultural and religious beliefs. As a whole, Fiddler on the Roof showcases the vibrant passion and heart of its characters through an impressive display of storytelling, music, and dance while also illustrating the impact of tradition and the strength that comes from within one’s community.

A Glance into the History of Fiddler on the Roof:

Fiddler on the Roof debuted on Broadway in 1964 and was the first musical theatre production in history to surpass 3,000 performances. The show has won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction, and Best Choreography, and so far has had five Broadway revivals along with a film adaptation released in 1971.

 About this Year’s Show:

This year, I had the chance to speak with Mrs. Cofresi, Santa Catalina’s very own dance instructor and choreographer of this year’s show, to ask her a couple of questions about her experience with Fiddler on the Roof so far, since she has never done this particular production before. Mrs. Cofresi describes this new experience as “challenging and exciting”, but as rehearsals progress and the cast grows closer together she looks forward to many “more funny and memorable moments to come as we get closer to running the show.” 

I also wanted to touch on how dance specifically plays a role in this high energy musical. I was curious to know what Mrs. Cofresi’s thoughts were, as a dancer, teacher, and audience member, on the musical elements of the show and the influence of dance. 

The first question to be asked was, “When taking on the classic choreography from Fiddler on the Roof, what has been the most challenging move to perform? Which dance do you think has been the most difficult to teach or the most difficult for students to learn?” As a result of the show being revived recently, previous contractual obligations to only use the show’s original choreography have been removed, thus giving Mrs. Cofresi the chance to input her own unique take on the choreography in this year’s production. Mrs. Cofresi commented that “it has been wonderful and challenging to pay homage to a master choreographer and put my own stylistic quality in it as well.” While this does allow more opportunity for Mrs. Cofresi’s creativity to influence the musical numbers, she did share that “if anyone does Fiddler, they know you have to do the Bottle Dance because it is so iconic. It is definitely the most challenging dance, given that while many productions have done tricks of using velcro, magnets, or even glued the bottles to the hats, our students are balancing actual wine bottles with nothing to help them cheat. This is also a dance that they have to figure out for themselves by practicing; you can’t just explain it and have it be perfect the first time through.” Audience members can be sure to look forward to these magnificent balancing acts when seeing the show this October, but if they want a sneak preview, readers can scroll to the bottom of this article to see some of our dancers practicing this challenging dance. 

Transitioning back to taking on this new set of choreography, Mrs. Cofresi says, “it has been difficult teaching many of the numbers due to the quality of movement that is cultural and spiritual and comes from a deep, innate sense of knowing one’s body and [knowing] moves the characters have been doing for generations”. Nevertheless, the dance numbers are also a “unique quality of the show, creating [this] sense of a long-standing tradition and sense of community.” Just as Santa Catalina girls bond over traditions such as Halloween Dinner, Kris Kringle, Candlelight Mass, and Ring Week, to name a few, the cast of this year’s Fiddler on the Roof production can relate to their characters’ sense of community when learning not only a whole new dance, but also that deep sense of tradition and way of life which is rooted within the very dance moves that bring this story to life.

Fun fact: Mrs. Cofresi’s personal favorite number in this production is ‘To Life’ since it is “the first time we see a more flashy dance number with the groups going back and forth, and also an interaction between the Russian and Jewish characters. This is a celebration they share together, dancing and singing with joy and disregarding their current religious and political animosity. It is also an infectious and fun melody that gets stuck in your head when you hear it.” Audience members are sure to catch the music bug after they hear this song’s catchy tune!

To follow up, another question asked was, “Do you have a favorite moment so far while taking on this production with our Santa Catalina cast?” Mrs. Cofresi decided that her “favorite moment so far was the first time the bottle dancers tried dancing with the bottles and did the most challenging part of the dance without dropping one.” Still curious as to what these bottle dancers actually are doing? Watch a sneak preview included at the bottom of this article!

After speaking with Mrs. Cofresi, I was thrilled to also have the chance to talk with one of the cast members, sophomore Audrey Avelino, who will be playing Mendel in the upcoming production. In the show, Mendel is the rabbi’s son and voices his concerns about having an outsider, Perchik, bring his radical new ideas into their small community. Audrey has been a performer since she was young but her “favorite thing about being in a Catalina production would be the friendships made. Being a part of a show allows you to meet new people from different grades and bond over something.” As audience members will see, the bonds of community formed between characters on stage such as Tevye and Motel (Motel receives Tevye’s approval to marry his eldest daughter during the show) are also developed behind the scenes. Audrey simply describes that “with this show especially, some of the scenes need a certain type of bond and understanding between the actresses so it’s amazing to get to know all the talented girls who are part of our cast and crew.” It is these bonds of friendship that give this year’s group of actresses the chance to dive deeper into their characters and thus truly bring Fiddler on the Roof’s story of tradition and community to life.

To bring a show to life, Catalina’s actresses spend weeks rehearsing: they learn the choreography, master their lines, and slowly memorize every song by heart. As a result, by opening night, the girls know every scene and have already picked out their favorites. Agreeing with Mrs. Cofresi, Audrey’s favorite scene in the show is ‘To Life’ “because everyone on and off stage is having fun! The dancing, acting, and music are all amazing and the scene is so joyful!” Indeed, Fiddler on the Roof’s overall atmosphere will leave audience members feeling ready to jump to their feet and dance or sing with the rest of the audience no matter their age. As Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist of the original production, stated when talking about bringing Fiddler on the Roof to Broadway, “We all felt the same way about the stories, that they were just very beautiful and we couldn’t wait to work on them.” This relates to Mrs. Cofresi’s belief that in the number ‘To Life’, the audience will see that the love of community and the tradition of celebrating good tidings amongst community members overcomes any prejudice or tension underlying the Russian and Jewish characters’ interactions. Instead, “they share together, dancing and singing with joy and disregarding their current religious and political animosity.”

Finally, the one question that I asked both Mrs. Cofresi and Audrey was,

“What is one thing that stands out or resonates with you from the show?” Audrey reflected that “one thing that resonates with me from the show is the fact that this story is just as relevant now as it was when [it was] made. It has something in it that almost everyone can relate to.” Mrs. Cofresi said, “Something that resonates with me from this show is the struggle of Tevye, as a parent, trying to provide for his family and make the right choices for his daughters. Tevye struggles to give his daughters their independence and freedom to love, going against thousands of years of tradition, their way of life, the state of the world, and his own beliefs, ultimately in turmoil with himself. This is something parents, and even we as teachers, experience on a daily basis, trying to prepare all of our students for the world.”

As the cast, crew, and their mentors continue to prepare for the show and the girls together grow as actresses, audiences can look forward to witnessing Santa Catalina’s Fiddler on the Roof this October. Readers can catch the next show on Friday, October 25th or Saturday the 26th where the cast hopes to see you there!

 Curious about the beloved ‘To Life’ musical extravaganza? Watch this video of some of our dancers practicing a part in the choreography in which they must balance wine bottles on their heads. They have no help other than their own honed balance skills and Mrs. Cofresi’s guiding voice! Link:

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