By The Reporter Staff
Larry Kassan will facilitate the film discussion of “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracle” at Super Sunday on August 29. For more information about the event, see the article on this page.)
Larry Kassan, who is coordinator of special events and theatre at the Rod Serling School of Fine Arts at Binghamton City School District, knows “Fiddler on the Roof”: not only has he seen more than a dozen productions of the musical, but he has directed, designed or produced “Fiddler” at least six times. Why does he feel the musical is so popular? “I can say that in one word: tradition,” he noted in an e-mail interview. “Honestly, Tevye’s story is universal. It touches all who see it. Recently, I was watching ‘The King and I.’ I could even see Tevye’s struggles [as similar to those of] the king of Siam: a changing world [where one is] so desperately trying to hold onto one’s traditions.”
The many performances he’s seen range from community theater to Broadway. He noted, “[I saw] the recent revival and a revival a few years back starring Harvey Fierstein, who took over the role from Alfred Molina. I must admit my favorite to date was the all-Yiddish revival directed by Joel Grey at the New York City Museum of Jewish Heritage. It was wonderful and held a special place in my heart since my daughter was getting married a month later. I sobbed through the wedding scene and ‘Sunrise Sunset.’ I also got to see a local actor, Claus Evans, play the lead in an outdoor summer production in Albany, but surprisingly never saw him here at the former Cider Mill Playhouse.”
His connection with the musical began young. He noted that his first production took place during his high school years at his temple on Long Island. Other performances include those at community theaters and summer stock productions, including one in Lake Placid, NY, just prior to the 1980 Winter Olympics. But some of his favorite memories are from productions held in the Binghamton High School Helen Foley Theatre.
“As you know, [Binghamton High School is] a very diverse school and our cast both reflected and celebrated this diversity,” Kassan said. “Tevye, who makes a point often throughout the musical that he has five daughters! In our production of his five daughters, one was African American, one was of Irish heritage and the other was from a Vietnamese family! Our Yente was a wonderful senior at BHS who was also African American. Knowing I was the only Jewish member of the musical faculty, she stuck close and constantly asked me questions about the character of Yente. We often broke into character together and I would take on the role of a resident of Anetevka, in the cafeteria, [while] passing each other in the halls, etc.”
Kassan noted that sometimes he and the student kept acting outside the school. “A most amusing memory was at Wegmans,” he added. “She was a cashier there and I would always choose her counter to check out my groceries. She would greet me as Yente asking, ‘So, Mr. Kassan, how are you,’ in as ethnic a voice that she could muster. I would respond, ‘How should I be doing?’ She would say, ‘Of course, with all this mishegoss!’ Needless to say, the looks we would get from the shoppers on line were priceless!”