From February 9 to March 10, audiences in San Diego will be able to embark on Fiddler on the Roof, the iconic musical touching on the themes of tradition, love, and the winds of change. In the Director’s seat is performer, lyricist, and playwright Omri Schein. Hailing from South Africa, Schein brings a unique touch to this universal tale. Here, Schein shares the special significance of bringing Fiddler on the Roof to San Diego in the aftermath of October 7th.
L’CHAIM Magazine: What are you hoping the production of Fiddler on the Roof will achieve at this specific point in time, in our town?
Omri Schein: Recent events in the Middle East and responses to those events here in the United States have highlighted how so many individuals are either unaware, uninformed, or generally ignorant about what it means to be Jewish. There isn’t one specific way to be Jewish, though there are those in the many ways of being Jewish, who might disagree. I hope that this production of Fiddler on the Roof might educate, or even illuminate one particular way of Jewishness and maybe distract or give a little respite to what is happening in the world.
L’CHAIM: The casting of characters in Fiddler on the Roof is crucial to the narrative. Can you discuss the casting process and any specific choices you made to bring out the depth and complexity of the characters?
OS: I am Jewish and although I have seen many fine productions of Fiddler on the Roof in the past, I have always sensed the lack of Yiddishkeit. Although a controversial topic, and I don’t necessarily believe all Jewish roles should be played by Jewish actors, I do however require Jewish-themed shows to have a feel of authenticity to it. And to have a smattering of actual Jews be a part of it certainly helps.
I set a goal to cast as many Jewish-identifying actors as possible. I am proud to say our cast of Fiddler is almost at fifty percent and we could’ve been at a slightly higher percentage, but I refuse to just cast just on background. We cast the best person in each role to fit the puzzle of casting.
L’CHAIM: What challenges did you face in adapting such a well-known and beloved musical?
OS: Most people who are familiar with the show have a certain expectation. For years every production of Fiddler was required to use the original choreography by Jerome Robbins, and certain moments in the show have become iconic. The limitations of the SDMT Stage required us to approach the show innovatively. There isn’t room to bring a house on and off from the wings and for numerous changes in set locations. Our solution was a set of luggage, chests, steamer trunks, and suitcases. They represent the always packed suitcase at the door, in case of the next expulsion or need to flee. With that decision, we decided to stage it differently as well. The choreography by Jill Gorrie is new, with a few homages to the original as well as satisfying old expectations. We are not reinventing the wheel. It’s still Fiddler. Same songs. Same jokes. Same period. Same heart. It will just look a little different.
L’CHAIM: What does Fiddler on the Roof mean to you on a personal level?
OS: I always liked Fiddler on the Roof, but it was never one of my favorites.
Now, as a man in my early 40s, it surprises me how much the show moves me. Sure, it’s a classic. Sure, it has catchy songs. Sure, it’s about my people. Literally. My great-grandfather Joseph Weber was murdered in a pogrom in the late 1910s in a Shtetl outside of Lviv.
For me, it’s because I have a daughter. An innocent, curious, wonderful child. And I fear that what happens to these characters and their offspring could possibly happen to her.
Yes, it’s a great American musical with glorious songs, amusing dialogue, and funny characters. But it’s also an important one. Maybe even more so today.
Fiddler on the Roof will play from February 9 to March 10, 2024 on the SDMT Stage, 4650 Mercury Street, San Diego.