Interview: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a Tradition for Kathy St. George

Musical runs through June 16 at Bill Hanney's North Shore Music Theatre

By: Jun. 07, 2024
Interview: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a Tradition for Kathy St. George
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Interview: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a Tradition for Kathy St. George

Actor, singer, and Stoneham native Kathy St. George is coming full circle with her current role as Yente the matchmaker in the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” running through June 16 at Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly.

St. George made her Broadway debut in the 1981 revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” at New York’s Lincoln Center, playing Bielke, Tevye and Golde’s youngest daughter.

After that production ended its limited Broadway run, St. George returned home and resumed her career as a second-grade teacher in the Stoneham Public Schools. But in the mid-1980s, when a part on the Boston-filmed Robert Urich series “Spenser: For Hire” caused her to miss the first day of school, St. George realized that while she loved teaching, acting was her true calling.

In 1990, she was cast in the third Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” at the Gershwin Theatre, this time as Shprintze, while again understudying Grandma Tzeitel.  

The Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick musical, with book by Joseph Stein and based on “Tevye and His Daughters” and other stories by Sholem Aleichem, premiered on Broadway in 1964 and went on to win nine 1965 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The story of a poor but proud Jewish milkman raising his family in an increasingly hostile Tsarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, the show’s iconic score includes “Tradition,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “To Life,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Do You Love Me?” “Anatevka,” and more.

The legendary five-time Tony Award winner Jerome Robbins choreographed and directed the original Broadway production and its first two revivals, and his Tony Award-winning work was recreated for three subsequent Broadway revivals, a 1971 feature film adaptation, and numerous road companies. Under the direction of Robert W. Schneider, with choreography by John Assor, the NSMT production recreates Jerome Robbins’ original Broadway choreography.

Since her Broadway days, St. George has continued a career that has included the national tours of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and “Menopause: The Musical,” as well as numerous appearances in musicals and plays in and around greater Boston. She was most recently seen in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Lyric Stage Company of Boston.

By telephone recently from her Stoneham home, St. George talked about her history with “Fiddler,” what it’s like now to be on the road, and more.

What are your earliest memories of “Fiddler”?

My earliest memories are of when I did the show on Broadway with Herschel Bernardi as Tevye. It was a joy to work with Herschel. Offstage, he was such a mensch. I played the youngest daughter, Bielke, and I also understudied the role of Grandma Tzeitel – so I played the oldest and youngest characters in the show.

What was your second experience doing the show on Broadway like?

That was the 25th-anniversary production, starring Topol as Tevye, and before we opened in New York we brought the show to Osaka and Tokyo, Japan. Topol – who starred in the 1971 feature film adaptation of “Fiddler” – was brilliant. I loved working with him and we bonded and became good friends, too. He was not just a performer but also an artist, and he did two sketches of me, one as Shprintze and one as Grandma Tzeitel. They’re both still hanging in my home today. I also have a show poster from that production that I cherish. It’s signed, “You’re the Greatest Grandma Tzeitel ever, Sheldon Harnick.”

That third revival was the final one directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. What was he like to work with?

Working with Jerome Robbins was the highlight of my career. He was amazing and so very gifted. I used to sit in on rehearsals for scenes I wasn’t even in because I just wanted to watch him. Not only was he an extraordinary director and choreographer, he also provided us important background on our characters and amazing insights into the story. He gave me notes I still think of today. He told me when I’m playing Grandma Tzeitel, I should scream at the top of my lungs and then bring it down. It was perfect direction and I was very glad to receive it. What made me the happiest, though, was when he would say, “That’s good, Kathy.”

When that production closed, did you ever imagine that it would be 33 years before you did the show again?

I imagined I would do the show again, but it never once crossed my mind that it would be so many years later. I’m glad to be doing it now at North Shore Music Theatre. Our director has so many thoughtful insights into this story and has found numerous ways to make it feel fresh. We’re in the round, of course, so he’s added transitions that make the story progress. He’s also found a way to keep the story moving between scenes that is unlike anything I have ever seen before.

Yente is a new character for you. What do you think of her?

Yente is right up my alley. When I auditioned and was cast in the part, I was thrilled because the character is such a delight. I love all of her monologues. Ruth Jaroslow played Yente in both of the Broadway revivals I did and was just marvelous in the part. As I play Yente now, I often have Ruth in my head and heart as my inspiration.

The score for “Fiddler on the Roof” is considered by many to be one of the greatest ever written. Do you have a favorite song from the show?

I love “Tradition” and “Sabbath Prayer,” both of which are performed by the full company. My true favorite, however, is "Chavaleh (Little Bird),” which Tevye sings about the daughter he disowned for marrying outside the Jewish faith. It comes near the end of the second act and it makes me cry every night. It’s both stunning and heartbreaking.

Photo caption: Kathy St. George as Yente in a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Photo by David Costa. Head shot of Kathy St. George courtesy of Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre.


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