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Stage Preview: Combo of 'Fiddler' and friends proved irresistible to Barbeau

Sunday, June 16, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In weighing three summer job offers, Pittsburgh and longtime friends George Romero and Tom Atkins tipped the scale for actress Adrienne Barbeau. That's why she's in Pittsburgh rehearsing for this week's opening of "Fiddler on the Roof" for the Pittsburgh CLO.

Adrienne Barbeau made her Broadway debut as the daughter Hodel in "Fiddler on the Roof." Now, for Pittsburgh CLO, she takes on the role of the mother, Golde.

"I had three offers to do three different projects," and two were in Los Angeles, Barbeau said. "I love Pittsburgh, and I have two families who are very close friends there -- Tom Atkins, an old, dear friend from way back, and the Romeros. I thought I wanted to come to Pittsburgh. That's the important thing."

Romero directed Barbeau in "Creepshow" and "Two Evil Eyes," and while her resume seems a bit horror-heavy at times, it actually includes a long, diverse list of credits. She began performing in 1963 with the San Jose Civic Light Opera, and by the time she was 18, she had entertained servicemen on Army bases in Southeast Asia and was bound for Broadway, where she made her debut as the second daughter, Hodel, in "Fiddler on the Roof."

Now she's coming to Pittsburgh to play the mother, Golde, in "Fiddler" opposite Lenny Wolpe's Tevye. The show opens Tuesday at the Benedum Center and runs through June 30.

This won't be the first time Barbeau, who just turned 57, is playing the sharp-tongued wife in the musical.

"I did it two years ago with Lenny Wolpe in Long Beach, Calif., just south of L.A. Of course, I did 'Fiddler' for 2 1/2 years when I was young, and I've always said if you have to do anything on stage for an extended period of time, 'Fiddler' is the one to do," she said in a recent phone interview.

"It's such a wonderful play, and there's always something to strive for emotionally. So when they first offered me Golde last year, I jumped at it. It was an interesting experience, being in another role and looking back, and it was as though no time had passed at all. I remembered so clearly so much of it, it was bizarre. But the best part about doing it this time is that I have worked with this director -- Glenn Casale -- in the past, and if I had my druthers, I'd work with him on every project."

"Fiddler on the Roof"

Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.

When: Performances run Tuesday through June 30 -- 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and a special matinee at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

Tickets: $12 to $44; 412-456-6666.


Learning that Lorraine Serabian has been cast as Yente, the town matchmaker, was a wonderful bonus. Barbeau still remembers Serabian's opening night turn in Hal Prince's "Zorba" in 1968 and says, "Her performance was so incredible, it's just always stayed in my mind."

"Fiddler" is about a strong, lovable and poor dairyman named Tevye who struggles to hold onto tradition and home in the poverty-stricken village of Anatevka in Czarist Russia. He and his wife have five daughters and, with the help of the town matchmaker, try to arrange marriage for the three eldest -- despite the lack of dowries.

Filling those three roles: Stephanie Block, as the eldest, Tzeitel; Kim Huber, as Hodel; and Courtney Mazza, a former CLO Mini Star back for her third CLO season, as Chava.

Barbeau, who earned a Tony nomination for playing Rizzo in the original Broadway production of "Grease," begs to differ when told that she seems a bit young to play the mother's role. "When you stop to think about it, the early 1900s, Golde was probably 40 and the girls were 15, 16, 17, let's say even 18. People got married very young. With 'Fiddler,' we don't wear makeup to begin with, and we put the babushka on and the wig, and so, that's enough."

While Barbeau reviewed the music at her California home, she planned to wait until arriving in Pittsburgh to perfect her performance. "I tend to memorize while I'm rehearsing because it locks in physically somehow," as movements are associated with music.


Audio (MP3 format) clips are from a telephone interview between the PG's Barb Vancheri and Adrienne Barbeau star of the CLO's Fiddler on the Roof. Clips are edited and optimized for the Web.

In the clips Adrienne Barbeau discusses:

Why she chose to work in Pittsburgh (700K)

Playing the role of Golde in "Fiddler on the Roof." (483K)

The themes that make "Fiddler" so compelling for audience and actors. (537K)

Download MP3 players for Windows or Mac machines:

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"Fiddler" opened on Broadway in 1964 and spawned a movie, several revivals and countless professional and amateur productions. Its subject matter is the reason it endures.

"It's about persecution, and persecution has continued and will continue, unfortunately, for many years. And it's not just about Jewish persecution. Almost every family has suffered persecution at some time. My family's Armenian, we were the first genocide of the [last] century -- even before Hitler. ...

"We're doing it over and over and over again, so it is unfortunately timeless and current. And it's also about family conflict, parent-child, and what happens when the child is becoming the adult and has ideas about what they want to do."

Barbeau, who played Bea Arthur's daughter on "Maude" from 1972-78 and is now Oswald's mom on "The Drew Carey Show," knows all about parents and children. She has a son, Cody, from her first marriage to director John Carpenter, and twin 5-year-old boys named William and Walker with her present husband, sitcom writer Billy Van Zandt.

The bio on her Web site (at www.abarbeau.com) jokes she was the "only woman on the maternity ward who was a member of AARP."

Being an older mother "certainly keeps me young," she says. "I've always had energy, although I do notice at 9 o'clock at night, I'm sort of grateful when they're up in their room and I can sit down and veg out with a book." She is not, however, looking forward to a late and double dose of adolescence.

Her older son graduated from high school this month and is bound for the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara, a specialized program for music composition majors. He's not only an accomplished composer but also an award-winning writer of science fiction.

While watching the documentary "The Hamptons" that aired this month on ABC, Barbeau gained an even greater appreciation for her eldest. "I called my 18-year-old son. He was up on his room, so I intercommed him and I said, 'I'm so proud you're my son, and I'm so grateful you're my son" instead of a Hamptons habitue with what she delicately calls interesting values. "A lot of young people are going after the dollar and the drink."

In September, Barbeau will begin filming an HBO series called "Carnivale" in which she plays a tattooed snake charmer. "It's an hourlong series about carny workers during the Depression in the Dust Bowl."

And yes, she has to work with real snakes, which doesn't daunt her.

During her first trip to Pittsburgh, to film "Creepshow," Barbeau says, "Poor E.G. Marshall had to work with roaches. I would not work with roaches. I'll work with snakes, I've worked with tarantulas, I've worked with rats. I have no problem with any of those. They don't inspire affection in me, necessarily, but we were just out at our place in New Jersey, and one of the ducks, as soon as he hears that we're awake, comes to the kitchen door to be fed. I realize I talk to him quite a bit," just as she may talk to the snakes in "Carnivale."

Barbeau must sport a snake tattoo that dances down her arm. "They have a wonderful new technique which goes on fairly easily. It does not come off easily. The first night, I made the mistake of wearing it home because I thought the boys would enjoy seeing it. Of course it freaked them out. It took me three days to get the stuff off," and the prescribed baby oil and rubbing alcohol didn't immediately erase it.

The snake charmer sounds like one of the more normal characters in "Carnivale." Barbeau says, "It's good vs. evil, a satanic evangelist vs. carny freaks. We have Siamese twins, we have a giant, we have a dwarf, we have people with the power to heal. Sort of exiles meets Marjoe Gortner."

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