Expect to be electrified by the depth of talent in UMD's theater department when

Fiddler on the Roof opens Oct. 19.

The musical, which is chock full of great songs and wonderful dancing, is also a showcase for student actors with fabulous voices and a sense of comedy and tragedy that brings this poignant story closer to home.

Set in 1905, "Fiddler on the Roof" takes place in Anatevka, a small Jewish village in Russia.

The story revolves around a poor Jewish milkman, Tevye, played by Adam Hummel, and his wife, Golde, played by Pegah Kadkhodaian, trying to marry off their five daughters in the face of a changing world.

While the Jews maintained their identity and sense of community in Russia by following traditions -- "Because of our traditions, everyone knows what God expects them to do," Tevye says at the beginning of the play -- the outside world is forcing new ways on this small rural community.

The story line and the character development are hallmarks of this musical, which had a long run on Broadway when it was first introduced in 1964.

"I think probably as far as American musicals go, it has one of the strongest librettos, or storylines," said Kate Ufema, associate professor of theater at UMD who is directing the show. "It has one of the strongest messages a musical could have, and also the music is wonderful. It's all hummable. It's hard not to go out of the theater humming."

Songs like "Traditions", "If I were a Rich Man," and "Sunrise, Sunset," are just a few in this popular musical.

One of the interesting features here is that "Fiddler on the Roof," isn't exactly a comedy, Ufema said. "It's what we call a tragicomedy, the first of its kind, really, in terms of musical theater. It's like Camelot, although it doesn't necessarily have a happy ending. That's the best kind of theater, I think. It takes you to the extreme and makes you feel all kinds of things."

Certainly, the actors in this show can carry it off.

"There are some really phenomenally talented members of this cast," said choreographer Kim Neal Nofsinger, who just came on board at UMD.

It was a challenge to choreograph dances for 30 dancers on the small stage, he said, but it has worked out well.

Ufema said the production brings in members of the community as well as UMD students. Four children from the community act in the show including Zach Portilla, 7, who is appearing in his third UMD production.

There's a German shepherd, owned by Dody Davis, and 10-month-old Jamie Watson, who appears with his mother, Shannon, a graduate of the theater department.

There could be some chickens, too, but Ufema isn't too sure if she can get the permits for them. "We're going through lots of red tape," she said.

Directing this play has been a special experience for her because, in some ways, the issues in the play are issues she dealt with as a child.

"My mother was a German Jew who escaped Nazi Germany. My father was a Russian Orthodox Catholic. He came from a big Russian family and my mother did exactly what is done in "Fiddler" -- she broke with tradition. She married out of her faith," Ufema said. "So when Fiddler came out in 1964, and my parents heard it, they loved it. The first opportunity they had, they took me to see it and had hoped that sometime during their lifetime, they'd see me do it."


But it was not to be. The timing was off, perhaps.

Ufema said she came very close to doing the show several times, but it never quite worked out.

Although her parents, who are both deceased, will not see this show, there's been another benefit, she said.

"It's given me an opportunity to do research on all of my background," she said.

Her connections to those traditions are clear in this production. The characters speak with the lilts and accents of Jewish immigrants and the energy of the interactions and development of the characters is authentic to Jewish tradition.

The play should also teach in more than ways than one as conflict escalates in Israel.

"Fiddler on the Roof" deals with anti-Semitism and its impact on families and lives.

"It's on the global, international level that hate and hate crimes continue to exist," Nofsinger said. "If we don't examine them and hold them up, we're turning a blind eye. This show is showing us that we can't."

Ufema agreed. "The Jews are continually fighting for a place to live," she said, and "Fiddler on the Roof" addresses some of these issues. At the same time, it's a story that has touched hundreds of lives. "It's a beautiful show," she said.


"Fiddler on the Roof," a musical by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, opens at UMD's Marshall Theater at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19.

The play runs Oct. 19-22 and Oct. 25-28.

Reserved seat tickets are $6-$12 and are available at the UMD Theatre Box Office now.

For reservations, call 726-8561.