PHOTOS BY JOAN MARCUS
Fiddler on the Roof, the classic and iconic musical tale of family, tradition, faith and love, sings and dances its way into Memphis this March at the Orpheum Theatre. The original production won 10 Tony Awards, including a special Tony for the longest-running Broadway musical of all time. Mel Weyn who plays Tzeitel and Jesse Weil who plays Motel answered a few questions for us before the sun rises on this newly updated production.
Jewish Scene: Tell us about your professional experience and background.
Mel Weyn:I grew up wanting to perform. Growing up outside of Atlanta, I participated in community theater and was in every school show I could possibly be in. I ended up going to Webster University in St. Louis and graduated from their Conservatory Program with a BFA in Acting. I moved to NYC in the fall of 2014, and I’ve been doing regional work since then. Last year, I was on the national tour of The Sound of Music.
Jesse Weil:I grew up outside of New York City. I remember going to shows with my family and gradually falling in love with theater. By the time I graduated from Brown University in 2016, it had become my primary interest. Since then, I’ve been involved with mostly new works in the New York area, so this tour has been a new experience and a gift!
When was the first time you saw Fiddler on the Roof, and did it have an impact on you?
MW:When I was little, I remember seeing the movie of Fiddler on the Roof. My grandma always loved old movie musicals, so it’s a very nostalgic show for me.
JW:I remember seeing Alfred Molina as Tevye on Broadway in 2004. I’m sure I saw the movie before [then] – my parents (particularly my mom) grew up with Fiddler. My family loves musicals and is very [traditionally] Jewish, so, short of being a doctor, this is pretty much the dream for my Mom.
Fiddler debuted on Broadway in 1964, what’s new and different about this revival production of Fiddler?
MW:I wish we could go back in time to see the original cast on Broadway in 1964 to really tell you.
JW:Agreed! That said, our production does a great job of paying homage to the original production, while also exploring a lot of new elements. Hofesh Shechter’s choreography honors Jerome Robbins’ iconic work but explores something a little more pedestrian and contemporary. The image of the Fiddler on the roof is in itself is deconstructed. The design is a bit more minimalistic. The whole production tries to focus on the story.
Do you think this new production of the iconic musical will speak to younger generations?
JW:I do! At its heart, it’s a story about family politics and how othering [to view or treat a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself; the mental exclusion of those who do not fit the norm of the social group, believing they belong to a subordinate social category]happens – themes that are really timeless. I also think that this particular production does an excellent job of actually putting the show in the context of today’s world.
MW:Totally. I also think that it’s going to speak to young women in a new way in 2018 – how these daughters defy the traditions of the time and speak out about what they truly want, even if it’s against the social norm. I find that element really inspiring about our show.
Fiddler is one of the most well-known and celebrated shows, how does it feel to fill such big shoes of those who previously starred in it?
MW:It’s pretty surreal honestly. There are days I pinch myself, asking how I got here and how I got to play such an iconic role. I had the privilege of meeting up with Alexandra Silber who played Tzeitel in the 2015 revival production on Broadway when we were in Chicago. I was so humbled by her generosity and kindness and so happy to be carrying the Tzeitel torch, as she called it. And we are surrounded by the most giving and wonderful cast. I love getting to do the show every night with these people. Focusing on those relationships helps keep my feet on the ground.
JW:As much as I can, I try not to think about it. When I allow my mind to wander in that direction, I can get really fixated on other people’s expectations – and a lot of people have them because this show and these parts are so iconic. I do my best to focus on the script and the people in front of me. That’s how I feel the greatest connection to the story – and through that – to the audience.
Fiddler was the first musical ever to surpass 3,000 performances and has received numerous Tony nominations and awards, why do you think it’s continued to remain such a popular and adored show?
MW:I think that it stays so popular because it is a timeless message of balancing life and love –one that is told in such a human and relatable way. The score is also iconic. I knew “Sunrise Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man” as their own entities before I ever knew they were from Fiddler on the Roof.
JW: It’s a universal story. The relationships within and around the family are recognizable and relatable. And it explores how othering and, ultimately persecution/refugee-ism, happens in a way that is really human. We have all otherized and been otherized in small ways. It’s really compelling and important to experience that in the show, and then watch that garner momentum and become something more and more malevolent. Especially because the end result – expulsion and diaspora – has become such an important issue in both domestic and international politics. It’s also just a very well-crafted play. The music is both catchy and smart, and the scenes are incredibly dynamic.
You’ve both been in several highly acclaimed shows, what does it mean to you to be part of Fiddler?
JW:It’s a joy to be part of a show that people already have such love for. You can feel it in the audience every night. Wherever we are, it feels like the audience is really rooting for us. That has been unique and wonderful.
MW:Oh definitely. The response from the audience is sometimes overwhelming. I feel so lucky to get to tell this story every night.
What’s it like to be part of a travelling show?
MW:Personally, I love it. I love to travel and explore new cities that I’ve never been to before. It also keeps the show fresh – yes, we are doing Fiddlereight times a week, but each city adds a new element or dynamic. Whether it’s a change with something in the venue or the town we are in or the people we interact with – there is always something to discover.
JW:Absolutely – having to always figure out the show in a new space with a new audience keeps it exciting! And it’s a gift to share this story with so much of the country. In some places, we’re exposing communities to a lot of new information about Jewish traditions and history. I’m hopeful that helps promote understanding and empathy – even outside of the parameters of this show.
Aside from Fiddler, what are some of your favorite musicals?
JW:Passing Strangeand Company.
MW:Oh man – I love a lot. Hair, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George, Carousel, TheBand’s Visit… the list goes on.
Fiddler on the Roof
Orpheum Theatre Memphis
March 19–24, 2019
Tickets: $25 – $125
A beloved theatrical classic from Tony-winner Joseph Stein and Pulitzer Prize-winners Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler on the Roof is directed by Tony-Award winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, The King and I) and choreographed by the acclaimed Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter.
The cast is led by Israeli theatre, film and TV star, Yehezkel Lazarov who will take on the lead role of Tevye in this production of Fiddler on the Roof. The cast will also feature Maite Uzal as Golde, Jonathan von Mering as Lazar Wolf, Carol Beaugard as Yente, Mel Weyn as Tzeitel, Ruthy Froch as Hodel, Natalie Powers as Chava, Danielle Allen as Sphintze, Emerson Glick as Bielke, Jesse Weil as Motel, Ryne Nardecchia as Perchick, Joshua Logan Alexander as Fyedka and Jeffrey Brooks as Constable. The ensemble includes Danny Arnold, Eric Berey, Nicholas Berke, Eloise DeLuca, Derek Ege, David Ferguson, Olivia Gjurich, Michael Hegarty, Allegra Herman, Carolyn Keller, Paul Morland, Kelly Gabrielle Murphy, Jacob Nahor, Jack O’Brien, Honza Pelichovsky, Leah Platt, Lynda Senisi, Nick Siccone, Brian Silver, and Britte Steele.