It’s the “Fiddler on the Roof” cast’s first rehearsal with the orchestra at the Fort Walla Walla Amphitheater. The music stands are nowhere to be found, and five seconds into the first number someone has missed a cue.
The music stops.
At least four people raise their hands for Vicki Lloid, choreographer of the musical. Behind the stage, a girl walks by with a live goat. Tevye misses his line.
“Upstage is the other way,” calls out Lloid.
This is the way it goes the first night I watch a rehearsal a week ago Monday. The following day, the cast makes it 20 minutes further into the musical, a remarkable jump in progress.
Days later, director Kevin Loomer tells me “we’re in real good shape.”
Loomer, head of Walla Walla Community College’s theater arts department, vocal director Julie Jones and Lloid are running this year’s outdoor summer musical, a fundraiser for the Walla Walla Community College Foundation.
After skipping a season in 2012 due to waning attendance, the foundation last year resumed with the ever-popular “The Music Man” in an effort to appeal to a larger audience.
The team chose “Fiddler,” another longtime Broadway and movie favorite, to attract a greater number of Walla Wallans and involve as many of them in the cast as they could.
If you go
Walla Walla Community College Foundation’s summer musical presentation of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Fort Walla Walla Amphitheater runs over three weekends: July 10-12, 17-19 and 24-26. Showtimes are at 8 p.m.
Tickets are available online at summermusical.wwc... or at WWCC’s Warrior’s Locker bookstore.
Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children 11 and younger.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 509-527-4255.
“We wanted to show that you can bring everybody to a family-friendly production, which to be honest, there aren’t too many of anymore,” said Loomer.
Indeed, every person of the 135 who auditioned got a part, making this 120-person production much larger than most renditions of the musical.
“Our philosophy is that everyone has talent, it just needs to be nurtured,” said Jones, who cast the musical along with Loomer and Lloid.
Jones says that this year’s cast is a mix of people who make the production more authentic.
“When you have a cast that’s so diverse in age and background ... you get a truly fresh theater experiment, it’s really organic,” she said.
The casts’ different pasts allow performers to relate to the story of “Fiddler,” set in imperial Russia at the turn of the 20th century. It follows the family of Tevye, a Jewish milkman, and the conflict between maintaining family and cultural traditions as the Jews in their village are under the Christian czar’s edict to leave.
“They feel the story,” said Jones. “The story of oppression, family ... (it’s) really reflected in what the cast has experienced.”
Though directing such a large cast is challenging, the variety allows the musical to be less stylized than other professional productions, and more a representation of a human experience.
“Our vision is that we wanted things to be a tad more organic,” said Loomer. “Less moments where some people suddenly break into what looks like a choreographed number.”
He is also letting heavier parts of the storyline be heavy. Although the musical is a fun favorite of many, with its balance of humor and melancholy, Loomer emphasizes that the weight of more serious aspects should be expressed fully.
“If it calls for something that’s a little more dramatic or ... for more angst, then I’m allowing that angst to be there and the real touching stuff to be even more so,” said Loomer.
For Loomer, the story’s emphasis on accepting change to traditions and beliefs is the most important aspect of the musical. Loomer’s past involvement in pulpit ministry makes this topic personally relevant.
“I basically said, ‘I can’t do this, live under these strictures that are artificial in so many ways,’” said Loomer.
“I went back to the basic Judeo-Christian text that basically says, ‘Love one another.’”
His disillusionment with organizational Christianity reflects the struggle characters in “Fiddler” have with change in Jewish custom.
As audiences watch, for example, Tevye reluctantly accepts one of his daughters’ autonomy in choosing a partner instead of entering an arranged marriage,
Loomer hopes people will consider this idea in their own lives.
“For me, that’s a real important element of this particular play, to ask people to look at the things they hold on to and to ask themselves if they’re really worth fighting for,” he said.
The tragedy of the play, Loomer explains, is that people in power didn’t discard intolerant beliefs, which resulted in the expulsion of Jewish families from their homes in Russia.
This theme, sadly, is still topical.
“The reality is, there’s things going on with Jews in Russia right now,” said Loomer.
“That idea has reared its head again and become a very real issue.”
Amid all of this, however, the play is still filled with comedy and ends with hope. Much like life most anywhere.