Bringing back the comedy in a weighty story was the goal of Bill Russell, Concordia’s guest director for “Fiddler on the Roof” and a Tony-nominated playwright.
Russell, a Broadway lyricist and librettist, is bringing to Concordia’s stage the story of a Tevye, a Jewish man who is trying to maintain his religious and cultural traditions for his family while outside influences are pushing in. The challenge of change is one of the reasons Russell was drawn to the show.
“I saw the original production toward the end of its run. That was when the Vietnam War was tearing the country and families apart and it had great resonance,” Russell says. “We’re in a similar period right now. Change is inevitable, but today it is happening at warp speed. Many traditions and ways of life are being challenged and that’s what this show is about.”
Russell, who is famous for writing the book and lyrics for the Broadway musical “Side Show,” landed at Concordia through connections with Dr. David Wintersteen, Concordia’s director of theatre, and theatre faculty member Christian Boy. Boy and Wintersteen were doing a show at the Black Hills Playhouse during the summer of 2016 as Russell was preparing for the opening of his show. The three got to know one another and when Concordia needed someone to be a guest director they asked Russell. When asked about working on a college production, Russell brushes off the idea that he’s a big name for this position.
“I direct professionally in everything from small black box theatres to the West End of London,” Russell says. “And often in colleges. I love working with students. As I told them at our first rehearsal, the process is always essentially the same – only the scale is different.”
This production of “Fiddler” is true to the story – but tries to make it more beautiful and bright. Russell says that even if the village is poor, poor people can still live in beautiful places.
“I’ve also seen productions that drain the comedy out of it and I wanted to honor the author’s intentions that way,” Russell says. “They created this show for Zero Mostel and Bea Arthur and other great comedians, so I have really encouraged the students to find the humor inherent in the writing.”
“Fiddler” opened Nov. 9 in the Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre on Concordia’s campus.
8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10-Saturday, Nov. 11
8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16-Saturday, Nov. 18
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19