From Halsted Street To Broadway: Jan Chats with Chicago Actress Sally Murphy about the New Revival of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

From Halsted Street To Broadway: Jan Chats with Chicago Actress Sally Murphy about the New Revival of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

(First Posted in 2004)


Tzeitel (Sally Murphy – center) teaches her two sisters Hodel  (Laura Michelle Kelly – left) and Chava (Tricia Paoluccio – right)  

to beware of Yente the Matchmaker in the new Broadway revival of  FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. (Credit: Carol Rosegg)

Jan
Tell us about your personal voyage from Halsted Street to Broadway, Sally.

Sally
I grew up in Chicago, went to Northwestern University, and then became a Chicago actor. I was very active in Chicago’s theatrical scene and started working with the Steppenwolf Theatre (on Halsted Street). I acted in New York for the first time when Steppenwolf took THE
GRAPES OF WRATH to Broadway in 1990. I played Rose of Sharon. What an amazing way to come to New York!

I lived for a time in LA, then I moved back to New York to do CAROUSEL. I’ve been here four years now, although I go to Chicago a lot to do plays and my family is there.

Jan
You’re still a permanent member of the Steppenwolf Ensemble, right?

Sally
Yes, since 1993, but there’s no fixed commitment. There never has been. When the right thing comes along and you are free to do it…

Jan
How did you get involved in the new revival of
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Sally? Did you know the part already and ask to play Tzeitel?

Sally
I got a call from my agent saying that they wanted to meet me and I went. But, of course, I knew the music already. I’d sung it all my life. In fact “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” was the first solo I ever sang. I did it for a vocal contest in 6th grade. My grade school and my high school both had great music programs. I went to Lincoln-Way High School in New Lenox.

Jan
Did you pick “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” yourself?

Sally
My teacher picked it for me. The FIDDLER songs are all so famous. My high school did it my freshman year, I think, and I saw it, so then we were always singing medleys from FIDDLER at school. I’ve known that music all of my life.

Jan
Were your parents Broadway fans?

Sally
Oh yes. We had every cast album imaginable.

Jan
So tell me, Sally, do you consider Tzeitel a feminist?

Sally
Oh yes. Absolutely! “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” is a total feminist song. Tzeitel is a little older and she’s sees the realities that her younger sisters don’t see. Her life is at stake much more than theirs because she has to be the first one to marry, and she’s in love with Motel the Tailor.

In the sections of the song where Tzeitel imitates Yente the Matchmaker, she describes the suitors Yente will probably bring home for her sisters. [To Hodel: “He’s handsome, he’s young! All right, he’s sixty-two.” And to Chava: “He’s handsome, he’s tall — That is from side to side.”]

My favorite part about it is that they listen to her, and then they sing: “Up to this minute I misunderstood that I could get stuck for good.”

We have a progressive father. Tevye has five daughters, and he brings a teacher into his house. That’s really unusual. It’s not easy for him when we all do go our own ways. At the first read-through of the show I thought: “Well, of course we do this, these daughters, because this is our father!” Tevye is very open. He wants us to find our own ways.

Jan
Some people will be surprised to hear you call Tevye “progressive,” Sally. I have books that describe him as a man “desperately clinging to tradition.” When Tevye sings about “Tradition!” in FIDDLER’s opening number, there’s a nostalgia factor. But “tradition” has a double-edge that’s really well-captured in the new production.

Sally
Absolutely. To me, it’s clear that Tzeitel is making some new rules. She has so much respect for tradition, but she’s very ready to move on and carve a new path.

In our verse, when the daughters sing about “Tradition!” in the opening number, we sing: “And who does Mama teach to mend & tend & fix, preparing me to marry whoever Papa picks?” But the show itself is about to contradict all of that, and that’s what life is about.

I’m Catholic and there are lots of things I don’t agree with in the Church, and yet that’s part of my life – the Catholic tradition. That complexity, that’s my favorite thing about FIDDLER.

Jan
I’m glad you brought up religion, Sally, because there’s been so much brouhaha about Thane Rosenbaum’s critique of the new production in the LA TIMES… In all your preparation, did you ever say to yourself: “How can I be Tzeitel – I’m not Jewish?”

Sally
No.

Jan
Good, I’m really glad to hear that! I thought [African-American actor] Brian Stokes Mitchell did a wonderful job as Don Quixote in MAN OF LA MANCHA when I saw him on Broadway last year, & I thought Alfred Molina did a wonderful job as Tevye when I saw him on Broadway last month. I really believe in the vitality of the great Broadway classics.

Sally
Yes, me too. When I met with Ed Harris to read for
POLLOCK, we talked mostly about musicals. Ed’s dad lives in Evanston. When he retired, he started doing community theater. Ed had just been to see him in THE MUSIC MAN. Here we were, we were about to do this incredibly heavy, dark movie, but what we talked about were the great American musicals. [Sally played Edith Metzger in POLLOCK — the lady killed at the end in the fatal car crash.]

Jan
One final FIDDLER question, Sally: at the end of the play, you and Motel leave for Warsaw with Motel’s mother Shandel?

Sally
Isn’t that great!

Jan
How did that come about? When I came back from New York, I reran the movie again on my DVD, and I looked for Shandel, but she’s not in the second half of the movie at all…

Sally
That’s just [director] David Leveaux’s incredible vision. All of that is his direction.

Jan
Do you know if he had specific discussions with [librettist] Joe Stein about Shandel?

Sally
No idea.

Jan
Well, watching it, it was clear to me that you, as Tzeitel, have a relationship with Shandel. And it’s clear that your mother, Golde, also has a relationship with her. So when the four of you (Motel, Tzeitel, Shandel, & the new baby) leave together for Warsaw, it’s a beautiful touch. It completes the arc in the Motel/Tzeitel relationship.

Sally
Yes, I agree.

Jan
Now for my final question, Sally: do people in New York and LA take Chicago people seriously?

Sally
Yes! I’ve lived in both cities, and the respect that you get because you’re a Chicago actor is just immense, honestly. I think you learn to be a good actor in Chicago; it’s just as simple as that.

Leaving is not an easy decision. I often think maybe should be living in Chicago now. I love Chicago. I miss reading the sports page. I miss watching the local news. I love looking at Chicago, and I love breathing the air. It’s in my bones. So I’m lucky to have Steppenwolf, so I can come back and work.

Jan
Do you have any last words for us, Sally, for your fans in Chicago?

Sally
Hang on. Spring is coming!

© Jan Lisa Huttner (4/1/04) – Special for Films for  Two. Reposted with Permission.


 
Randy Graff (as Golde),
Nick Danielson (as the Fiddler),
and Alfred Molina (as Tevye)
in the new Broadway revival of
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.
(Credit: Carol Rosegg)



Nancy Opel (as Yente the Matchmaker) commiserates with
two residents of Anatevka in the new Broadway revival of
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. (Credit: Carol Rosegg)


 
The famous Bottle Dance from the wedding scene in new Broadway
revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. (Credit: Carol Rosegg)

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