‘Fiddler’ cast transcends age barriers
By Anne Lee

The Star Ledger
Thursday— March 30, 2000

[News Article - Fiddler on the Roof] Charles Rossler has to ask himself, “Was I lucky or wasn't I? ”

After decades in community theater, he has a lead he hadn't done before: Tevye in the Cranford Repertory Theatre Company production of Fiddler on the Roof,”

“On the other hand, here I am at this age with so much to memorize,” said the Westfield resident, who will turn 70 soon after the show closes. Performances, sponsored by Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim of Cranford and staged at Cranford High School, are scheduled for this coming Saturday at 8 p.m., April 8 at 8:25p.m. and this Sunday and April 9 at 2P.M.

“There's so much dialogue, it can get confusing,” Rossler continued. “I'm keeping my fingers crossed.”

Tevye, the philosophical Jewish dairyman rearing five daughters in Czarist Russia, rarely leaves the stage. Now that's an experience Rossler has had many a time in another leading role: Don Quixote. “He practically never leaves the stage; it's a challenging role also,” said Rossler who has starred in nine productions of “Man of LaMancha” for “a grand total” of 85 performances.

“Don Quixote's my all-time favorite,“ added Rossler, a crossing guard at Wilson School in Westfield and a retired draftsman for American Hoeshst Corp. in Bridgewater. “ After that, I'd have to say it's the role of Emile deBeque, in ‘South Pacific’ and then the role of Charlie Anderson in ‘Shenandoah.’”

One thing that Rossler has learned from all those times he has played Don Quixote is that he doesn't like wearing a beard he's cemented on. To play Tevye, “I raised my own beard. No matter how shabby-looking it gets, it's still acceptable, ” he said. “As soon as the show's over, it's the first thing that's going to come off.”

Tevye, Rossler conceded, is a man younger than his own 69 years. Still, the role is a rather ageless one that has the character talking to God and to the audience and using a lot of hand gestures.

Playing opposute Tevye in the role of his determined wife, Golde, is an actress many years Rossler's junior: 28-year-old Jeanne Woerner of Piscataway. “It's a lot of fun,” Woerner said, adding that she appreciates the opportunity to play a role other than in “my age category…It's a very strong role—and there's always makeup, so I won't look as young.”

Woerner, a mainframe computer programmer for Automatic Data Processing Service in Roseland, plays mother to a cast of young women that includes Kerin Eyler of Edison, a 15-year-old she has known for years. “Our mothers work together,” she said (Eyler's mother, Shirley, is principal at the Randolphville School in Piscataway, where Woerner's mother, Jeanne Krefski, is the music teacher.)

“When I heard Tom Pedas was directing, I brought Kerin for an audition,” said Woerner, who knows Pedas, a Linden resident, from her years of singing with the Cranford-based Celebration Singers.

Eyler plays Chava, Tevye's third daughter, who elopes with a Christian, Fyedka, played by Jordan Levy of Springfield. The eldest daughter, Tzeitel, is played by Nicole Caprio of Cranford; the tailor she marries, Motel, is played by Daniel Kazemi of Springfield. The second daughter, Hodel, is played by Molly Friere of Cranford; the idealist she falls in love with, Perchik, is played by Eddie Egan of Cranford.

The two older daughters are featured in numbers with their beloveds. Chava dances a ballet while Tevye sings “Chaveleh,” mourning the daughter he refuses to acknowledge.

Eyler has a lot to keep her busy in addition to “Fiddler on the Roof. ” She takes dancing lessons at Center State and piano lessons with Krefski and also is a dancer in “Hello Dolly,” which her high school will present in early May. “You wouldn't believe how I've managed to organize my time,” said Eyler, a veteran of three Kids on Stage (South River/Piscataway) productions.

The oldest cast member is 74-year-old Jerry Kamen of Mountainside, who plays Avraham, the bookseller. The Cranford production will be his sixth for “Fiddler on the Roof.” Every time, he's been one of the bottle dancers in the wedding scene.

“I went to the auditions in Cranford and there were all these kids there to do the show and I told everybody, ‘I want to do the bottle dance,’ ” said Kamen, a Linden native who owns Day Drive-in Cleaners in Union.

He learned the bottle dance when the now-defunct Scotch Plains Players staged “Fiddler on the Roof” in the 1980's. “We were taught by the choreographer,” he said. “It takes a little skill, but if you have the right hat and the right-size bottle…The hat keeps the bottle so it lies flat. There's no Velcro…nothing like that…

“You have to be standing straight, looking forward…do not try to move your head at all,” he continued. “And you have to be balanced going down on your knees, then move your legs out to the right and then to the left.”

In that Scotch Plains Players production, Rossler was Lazar Wolf, the butcher who contracts with Yente the matchmaker for Tzeitel's hand in marriage. “We were the first group to be given “Fiddler on the Roof” after it left Broadway,” he recalled. “We had to do it by a certain time, because there were so many other groups that also wanted it.”

In the Cranford Repertory Theatre Production, Marc Chandler of Cranford plays Lazar Wolf. Yente is played by Mary Web of Cranford. Stephen Solomon of Cranford, the immediate past president of the temple, is the producer.

Tom Pedas, The Celebration Singers and Children's Chorus


e-mail Tom Pedas at: tpedas@aol.com