Two contrasting classics, the musical Fiddler on the Roof at the Orpheum, and the Tennessee Williams’ tragedy, Streetcar Named Desire at the Omaha Community Playhouse, share appeals that never grow old.
High on my list of favorite moments in Playhouse history took place far from Omaha when the father and mother of native son Marlon Brando saw him win the longest standing ovation in Broadway history when their son opened as Streetcar’s primal brute, Stanley Kowalski. It’s a Playhouse moment because young Marlon saw mother Dodie playing lead roles here while father Marlon was house manager.
Now the community theater’s resident director Amy Lane guides the iconic characters with Chad Cunningham as Stanley, Teri Fender as Blanche Dubois and Leanne Hill Carlson as Stella Kowalski. For Lane, the script “feels so fresh to me” as she faces her first experience directing Tennessee Williams.
On the other hand, Fiddler is so far from new to its lead actor that touring company publicity makes him part of the title, as in “Fiddler on the Roof starring John Preece as Tevye.” He’s done the humble milkman who wishes he was a rich man more than 1,800 times while appearing in the musical 3,500 times since 1970.
Just ask Pamela Chebora, who has played Tevye’s wife Golde and now plays Yente the matchmaker. She confirms that “John knows his Tevye. This is his life.”
It has been her life, too, for nine months, and those comments came in a parking lot in Waterbury, Connecticut, as she boarded a tour bus to Hartford. The daughter of a dancing teacher and a dairy farmer in New Hampshire, she was once Tzeitl, Tevye’s eldest daughter, “many years ago.”
This tour, Preece’s 10th with the story of Jewish villagers in Russia’s Ukraine, will end soon, so Chebora awaits final callback for the role of Grandma in the first Addams Family tour headed here next year. She combines acting (Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst ranks as a favorite role) with teaching, including years at North Dakota State.
She joined her husband, a classical pianist and music professor, there. He’ll retire this year and they’ll move to a log cabin in Maine. Meanwhile, as Yente she’s the eager busybody whose matchmaking comes completely undone when Tevye’s independent daughters find men on their own.
Fiddler, part of Omaha Performing Arts Broadway Across America series, opened Tuesday and closes with 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. performances on Sunday, April 29, at the Orpheum. Streetcar starts with its preview performance Thursday and continues at the Playhouse through May 27 in the smaller Howard Drew space.
Director Lane’s enthusiasm for this assignment stems partly from her reading of the original 1947 script with “lengthy stage directions meticulously detailing the world into which he threw his characters.” The New Orleans French Quarter, described as “vibrant, robust, really came alive for me—the sights, sounds and smells.”
Her set and lighting designer, UNO colleague Steve Williams, used those stage directions as “a type of blueprint.” The playwright “mentions a certain Van Gogh painting when describing the Kowalski home, so we used that as inspiration…a kind of Technicolor Van Gogh world into which Blanche floats like a fragile, tattered moth.”
Lane recently directed her Blanche, Teri Fender, in the Blue Barn’s Vibrator Play, “and I’m excited to work with her again. She so easily glides between Blanche’s hard reality and her delicate delusions.”
Chad as Stanley and Leanne as Stella both work with the director for the first time. Lane has acted with Matthew Pyle who plays a cameo role as the Doctor and serves as fight choreographer. “He has done a masterful job with some all-out drunken brawls.”
Leanne Hill Carlson has been seen most often in musical lead roles, such as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and Chad Cunningham was a villainous fellow in Flyin’ West at the Playhouse. Now they’re on the giving and receiving end of perhaps the most famous one-word delivery in all theater history when Stanley cries, “STELLA!”
Fiddler on the Roof runs April 24-29 at7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Orpheum Theater on 16th Street in downtown Omaha. Tickets starting at $25 are sold at TicketOmaha.com, by phone at 402.345.0606 and at the Holland Performing Arts Center.
A Streetcar Named Desire runs April 27-May 27 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Omaha Community Playhouse Howard Drew Theater, 69th and Cass. Tickets are $35, $21 students, at 402.553.0800.