‘Laugh and cry and be happy’ at ‘Fiddler’

“Fiddler on the Roof” is classic musical theater, a show that’s been around for as long as there have been roofs and fiddlers. Or at least since 1964, when it opened on Broadway.

What sets this Village Theatre production apart is director David Ira Goldstein’s focus on the community: a community’s heart, its love of life, its passions, its joys and sorrows.

It helped, actor Eric Polani Jensen said, that Goldstein is Jewish.

“Fiddler” opens Friday at the Everett Performing Arts Center.

“David really focused on the heart of the people both in their absolute joys and absolute despairs,” Jensen said. “I think he really brought out of the cast not only as a community of happy villagers but an actual community.”

“I found in this show much more humor than I had known was there,” Jensen said. “He kept the honesty and heart of the story as well.”

Jensen plays Tevye, the lead role in “Fiddler,” a man who is trying to keep alive the Russian-Jewish customs against the ever-rising tide of change, brought to his attention by his five daughters.

Jensen said he hopes Goldstein has led him in this role to be a man who still has hope in the future, who still conveys love — and humor — even though he may occasionally get loud.

“There is a Yiddish humor that can laugh at itself — laugh and cry and be happy in the next second,” Jensen said in a phone interview. “It’s one of the lovely things about Tevye. He’s a man of wonderful extremes and can change on a dime.”

If you’ve never had the opportunity to hear Jensen sing, then you are truly in store for a wonder of wonders.

Jensen’s booming and beautiful voice has dominated the stage in such Village Theatre roles as the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” and as Juan Peron in “Evita.”

This is Jensen’s first crack at Tevye, he said, adding that getting the part was a bit of a surprise and has been a “lovely emotional roller coaster.”

“The part is so rich and it has such heritage and he’s an icon and I thought that it was really out of my realm of possibility, so it’s really a treat and a honor to get a chance to do it,” Jensen said.

Jensen has the job of delivering big numbers in the show such as “Tradition,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “If I Were A Rich Man” and “Do You Love Me.”

The role of Tevye, a poor milkman, was captured and owned by actor Zero Mostel, who originated the role on Broadway, so much so that the actor is almost synonymous with the role.

Jensen said director Goldstein’s objective was not to create a caricature of the role but to honor the culture and the humor.

“David didn’t treat the role as a star vehicle,” Jensen said. “David said the story could have been told through anybody in the village but it is told through Tevye.”

What Jensen hopes the audience will take away from his portrayal of Tevye is the universality that families may fight and that the younger generations move on but all families learn to let go.

“How does a family let go and still hold on?” Jensen said. “It resonates for all families having to say goodbye.”

“Fiddler on the Roof” opens at 8 p.m. Friday and runs through Jan. 27 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett.

General tickets start at $38. Call 425-257-8600 or go to www.villagetheatre.org.

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424; goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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