Fiddler on the Roof, not a gay drama. Jewish people have traditionally been more accepting of GLBT struggles than other religions, perhaps because they understand what it feels like to be persecuted and attacked for who they are. Although we won’t be lucky enough to see Harvey Fierstein as Tevye in the Broadway tour of Fiddler that is coming to ASU Gammage this week, actor Andrew Boza assures you that you will love the production.
Set in the small Russian village of Anatevka at the turn of the 20th century, Fiddler on the Roof is a moving musical about Tevye, a poor milkman, who must balance his belief in tradition with the realities of the modern world. Each of his three eldest daughters fall in love with men he finds objectionable, one for a poor tailor (played by Boza), one for a fiery radical and, most upsettingly, one for a Russian gentile. At the same time, the Tsar begins ordering attacks against the Jewish settlements that will culminate in the Jews being forced from their homes. Songs like “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” have become well-loved standards that everyone knows. Despite the pain and drama of the story, Fiddler on the Roof contains much humor and levity. Laughing in the face of oppression is something Jewish and GLBT people have in common.
If Boza seems particularly comfortable in his role as the poor, mild-mannered tailor Motel Kamzoil, it is not surprising. He previously played the role in a much darker production of Fiddler done at the Olney Theatre outside of his home in Washington DC. “It’s a first for me,” he explained. “I’ve never played a role twice and both productions are so different. Our current production is much closer to the original, because our director was actually in the original production, he was a dancer. He worked closely with Jerome Robbins. I love my character so much that after I finished playing him the first time, I knew that I was dying to play him again.”
“Motel is very humble; he’s hard-working, quiet. I relate to him a lot. He has a nervous quality. He is used to being alone a lot, and he has to overcome that by facing his fears and standing up for what he really wants, which is (Tevye’s daughter) Tzeitel. I find him so genuine and I try to live my life as close to him as possible.”
Boza spoke to me from Easton, Pennsylvania, where the previous night’s performance had to be cancelled due to snow. “The entire cast is looking forward to heading out West,” he laughed. He enjoys the hectic tour schedule, even though with so many one-night stops, he admits it can be hard to remember where you are and where you have been the week before.
“It’s all about family to me,” Boza said, explaining what resonates most with him about Fiddler. “Everyone in Anatevka overcomes so much, and even though we’re leaving the village we will all still be connected. We’re very blessed as a cast to feel that way offstage as well.”
Boza is a first generation Cuban-American who grew up outside of Washington DC. He graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for six years before making the big move to New York. He got the Fiddler tour shortly after that. “I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.” The production feels very important, he says, after the recent deaths of its creators, Jerry Bock and Joseph Stein.
“Other than that there are a lot of cute guys in the cast?” Boza laughed, when asked what will appeal to the GLBT audiences. “The underlying tone of acceptance, even though there is a lot of change. Tevye really comes a long way from the beginning of the show. I see a parallel to being gay and having come out to my family, and how they had to deal with that struggle. I’m pretty sure that my past boyfriends haven’t been a perfect match,” he laughed. “Tevye really comes along and becomes accepting, as my parents did.”
“My (coming out) was pretty difficult,” Boza explained. “My parents were both raised in Cuba, so they weren’t exposed (to gay people). It took a couple of years, but they have really come around and are the most accepting people. It’s made our family even stronger than it was before. I came out ten years ago, and I think the media was different back then. Not everyone is a stereotype, but I think my parents expected me to come out and suddenly be in a dress or change who I was. I didn’t, and I think that they came to realize that my being gay wasn’t who I was, just a part of who I was.”
“No matter what your background is, you will relate to this show,” he concluded. “I really believe that you will fall in love with all of the characters in our production.”
The Fiddler on the Roof tour opens at ASU Gammage in Tempe, Arizona Tuesday March 29 and continues through April 3. Click here for tickets and more information.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.