The year is 1905, the place Czarist Russia. Tevye, a traditional Jewish father, is struggling with changes in his own family and their small village of Anatevka as suitors break tradition and come calling for his daughters and revolution threatens to drive his family from their ancestral home.
The classic tale of Fiddler on the Roof, one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway and a beloved Academy Award-winning 1971 film, will be staged April 16-18 in the Pfleeger Concert Hall in a joint collaboration between the Department of Theater and Dance, the Rowan Opera Company and the Rowan University Orchestra.
Directed by Lane Savadove, an award-winning professor in the Department of Theater and Dance, the production stresses such classic Jewish themes as piety and tradition against a backdrop of ever-changing social mores, upheaval and rebellion.
"Fiddler is a highly dramatic musical," Professor Savadove said this week. "It's character-driven and all of the songs and dances come out of very heightened emotions."
Savadove said in order to make the production feel true it was important to steep it in as much historical, cultural and religious accuracy as possible. Thus, the 36 student actors studied Jewish life in Russia at the turn of the 20th Century and the struggles of that period that changed not just Russia but the whole world.
"Our goal was a version that's very authentic -- more realistic and specific than students might have previously known," Savadove said. "There are no Jews in the cast but they all now know as much about Jewish culture as many Jews do. That same lesson is one we want to give the audience."
Inspired by the story Tevye and his Daughters that was written in Yiddish and published in 1894, Fiddler on the Roof, which first opened on Broadway in 1964, incorporates such modern themes as feminism, the struggles of the youth movement and progressive racial politics, Savadove said.
"Those themes were veiled in a story set in Czarist Russia but today's students can relate to them," he said.
Savadove, who joined the Rowan faculty in 2007 but has directed more than 35 professional productions and runs the theater company EgoPo in Philadelphia, said despite Fiddler's setting and time frame its themes of loss of safety and structure are universal and timeless.
And, of course, the music is great.
"I believe this is the best version people will ever see," Savadove said. "I can't remember the last time I was so excited about an opening."
Rachel Bauer, 22, a senior Theater and English double major from Woolwich Township who plays Tevye's wife Golde, said she's excited about the production but not simply because it's considered one of America's greatest musicals.
"We've gone for something that's honest," Bauer said. "It really illustrates a changing world."
Sophomore Jenna Kuerzi, a 19-year-old theater performance major from Mullica Hill, believes the production will speak to theater goers of all ages. Kuerzi plays Tevye's second eldest daughter Hodel, who runs off with a revolutionary to Siberia.
"Her actions may not represent me personally," Kuerzi said, "but they represent the youth movement as a whole. It may have been written in the 60s but it's interesting to see the parallels of it with today."
Showtimes for Fiddler on the Roof in the Pfleeger Concert Hall in Wilson Hall are 8 p.m. Friday, 3p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for seniors, non-Rowan students, Rowan staff & alumni. Tickets for Rowan students are free with valid ID. To purchase tickets, visit rowan.tix.com. For more information, call the box office at extension 4545 (from off-campus, 856-256-4545).