Husband and wife put real life into roles

Originally Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2012, 10:26 am
Last Updated: Nov. 16, 2012, 12:12 am
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By Jonathan Turner,

The national tour of the classic 1964 musical "Fiddler on the Roof" is extra special to its leads, Jimmy Ferraro and his wife, Dee Etta Rowe.

The Broadway veterans play the immortal couple Tevye and Golde, who have been married 25 years, have five daughters, and endure tumultuous changes to their family and way of life in 1880 in the tiny Russian village of Anatevka. "Fiddler" -- coming to the Adler Theatre in Davenport Sunday -- is the first musical they've played opposite each other, and in September, they marked their own 25th wedding anniversary on stage in Lancaster, Penn.

"When we sang 'Do You Love Me?,' we were both choked up," Mr. Ferraro said recently. "I have to admit the tears were rolling."

In "Do You Love Me?" Golde dismisses Tevye's question, but he keeps persisting. The two come to the realization after raising daughters through good times and bad, and trying to hold onto the traditions of their world, they both suppose they do love each other. Together, they sing:"It doesn't change a thing/ But even so/After twenty-five years/ It's nice to know."

"It's fantastic," Mr. Ferraro -- who has done more than 2,000 performances of "Fiddler" in his career -- said. "It's just kind of surreal. The whole cast is just a wonderful bunch of kids. The show is so great; we're getting a great response. We're getting standing ovations."

"Tevye is all about family; 'Fiddler' is all about family, the love of his family," he said. "He's a hard worker; he talks to God like he's his best friend. It's the universal appeal of show. It's 48 years old, but you still can relate to it today. What I love about it, it goes through many tragedies, but he always has hope for a bright future. I like to think that's a big part of me, in the role."

When his daughters choose suitors who defy his idea of a proper match, Tevye realizes his children will begin traditions of their own. At the story's close, the villagers of Anatevka are forced to leave their homes and even the sturdy customs that have guided everyday life begin to crumble. The musical -- created and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick -- includes the beloved numbers "Sunrise, Sunset," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Matchmaker," and "Miracle of Miracles."

"It's not like work. It's very easy," Ms. Rowe said. "Jimmy is Tevye, on and off stage. The whole cast loves him. He's Papa to everybody, and they call me Mama. It's wonderful chemistry we have as a group, which is unusual. It's a very special cast."

Mr. Ferraro and his wife met in Florida. He was working at a theater in St. Petersburg, and she came to visit her parents after finishing the national tour of "Sweeney Todd" with Angela Lansbury. Among Ms. Rowe's roles, she was on Broadway in 1979 in "The Most Happy Fella," and was in the original cast of "Nine." Three weeks after the couple met, they got engaged, and they married within nine months.

A New York native, Mr. Ferraro was first cast in "Fiddler" (as the rabbi) while enrolled at the University of Southern Florida. At age 19, he decided to leave school. With his first Actors Equity production on his resume, Mr. Ferraro decided to pursue an acting career full time and get training on the job. "Fiddler" has transformed his life.

In New York, he auditioned for the first national tour of "Fiddler," with Herschel Bernardi as Tevye, in 1977. Out of over 600 hopefuls, Mr. Ferraro was chosen to join the company by director Jerome Robbins. "I was speechless, shocked, excited -- you name it," he said.

For a year, Mr. Ferraro toured the country and learned Yiddish from Fyvush Finkel, a "Fiddler" veteran who became a mentor and lifelong friend. He was later hand-picked by Mr. Robbins -- who also directed/choreographed the original "West Side Story," "Gypsy" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" --from the national tour cast for the 1981 Broadway revival, at age 24.

Mr. Ferraro called Mr. Robbins, whose original choreography endures in this tour, "the god of American musical theater.With the exception of Lazar Wolf, he has played every father role in "Fiddler on the Roof," and Mr. Ferraro has performed Tevye since 2008.

His other New York credits include "Chicago," "Guys & Dolls," "Applause," "Hello, Dolly," "Oliver," "Man of La Mancha" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." Mr. Ferraro and his wife actually did one other "Fiddler" together, where she was Yente the matchmaker, at a dinner theater in Indianapolis in the early '90s.

"I have learned a great deal. I'm constantly inspired by the character," he said of the wise, world-weary Tevye, a dairyman. "I'd be thrilled if I could do this part for the rest of my life. When you play Tevye, it doesn't get much better than this."

If you go

-- What: "Fiddler on  the Roof."
-- When: Sunday at 7 p.m.
-- Where: Adler Theatre, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport.
-- Tickets: $32, $42 and $52, available at the Adler box office,, (800) 745-3000, and all Ticketmaster outlets. Groups of 20 or more should call (563) 326-8522.

NOTE: Subscriptions to Broadway at the Adler Theatre’s 2012-2013 season, presented by Lujack Lexus, are still available. Productions included in the season are "Fiddler on the Roof," "Cirque Dreams Holidaze," "A Chorus Line," "West Side Story," "Elvis Lives!" and "Rock of Ages."


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