Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Meet Tom Hallett in the Cast of Fiddler on the Roof on its Way to Waterbury

Fiddler on the Roof, the Tony Award® winning musical that has captured the hearts of people all over the world for decades, plays three performances at the Palace Theater on Jan. 28 (at 8 pm) and 29 (at 2 and 8 pm).
Based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem, the timeless musical tells the story of Tevye, a man wrestling with the new customs of a younger generation and boasts well-loved songs like "Sunrise, Sunset," "To Life" and "Tradition."
Tom Hallett, who plays the Rabbi, among other roles in the touring production, took a few minutes while he was on the road this week to chat with Lauren Yarger, editor of the
Connecticut Arts Connection.

CT ARTS Connection: What role(s) are you playing?
Tom Hallett: I play the part of the "beloved Rabbi." Additionally I play GJ1. That is short for Generic Jew #1. He is the character I play for all of the scene changes and during the Inn Scene that features the song "To Life." My GJ name is Samuel. I also serve as the assistant stage manager for the show, meaning I would call the show if our Stage Manager couldn't. And finally, I also serve as the assistant company manager. Long answer to say, I play the Rabbi.

CT Arts Connection: Where are you right now and how long have you been with the tour?
Tom Hallett: I am on a bus heading towards Portsmouth, Ohio where we will play tomorrow night (Jan. 12). We started rehearsals on Sept. 1 in NYC. We opened in Detroit on Oct. 6 and to date we have performed 76 shows in 48 cities in 26 different states. We have travelled over 15,881 miles. The contract goes through June of this year and we have 138 performances remaining on the schedule.

CT Arts Connection: Have you ever been in a production of Fiddler before?
Tom Hallett: Sure, both as an actor and director, but never at this level. One notable production, one time I did the show and both of my children were in the production with me. There is just something special about doing a show with your kids.

CT Arts Connection: What made you decide to audition for this tour?
Tom Hallett: First and foremost, I just love the show. I would do this show anywhere, but obviously, it is such a privilege to be part of the National Tour. But specifically, why now? This is more complicated. It has to do with where I am in life. Karen, my wife, is currently on assignment in Afghanistan as an Army chaplain. Both of my kids are in college. My daughter is in Virginia and my son is in Florida. So, left with the reality of staying at home, by myself, for the next year, I decided to audition for the show hoping that there would be a part for me. The goal was to make this year that Karen is gone go by much faster. Mission accomplished!

CT Arts Connection: What do you like most about the musical Fiddler?
Tom Hallett: What I love the most is the fact that even though the musical is written about a Jewish Community in Czarist Russia in 1905, the story is universally appealing. There are lessons for everyone. Sammy Dallas Bayes, our director (more about him later) tells the story of the time he directed the show in Japan. He was approached by a local Japanese official after the show. The man was amazed that someone would write a show that so effectively captured the essence of the Japanese culture. Equally important is the fact that the show has strong religious overtones. Matters of faith are very important to me.

CT Arts Connection: We lost two of the creative forces behind the show last year while you were on tour. Were there any special memorials with the cast?
Tom Hallett: Yeah, we lost Joe Stein and Jerry Bock. I vividly remember both of those shows. David Andrews Rogers, our musical director has been with the tour since it's beginning and knew both of those men. He was emotional when he found out, yet he was proud that he was performing their works at such a high level. We, of course, dedicated the shows to them and made a pre-show announcement in their honor. But there was something more. The show on the night that Joe Stein died was almost magical. There was an electricity in the performance. We knew it and the audience knew it. They were, and it remains true to this day, the most responsive, appreciative and wonderful audience we've had. It brought tears to our eyes and it made us proud that we could pay this man such a tribute.

Additionally, because of our director, Sammy Dallas Bayes, we feel tied to the original material. Sammy was part of the original cast in 1964 and has been directing the show ever since. He was also the assistant choreographer for the movie. He tells us tales and anecdotes from the very first days of Fiddler. "I remember when Zero (Mostel) did this and when Jerry (Jerome Robbins) did that." It has truly been special. Because of our tie to Sammy, we all feel if we are one more stitch in the fabric that is Fiddler on the Roof.

CT Arts Connection: What are some of the highlights/lowlights of being on tour? Any bus stories you can share with us?
Tom Hallett: Unwritten law of touring life....."What happens on the bus, stays on the bus!" I will say however, that living with 34 other people day in and day out presents its own set of challenges. You would think that eventually you would have some type of discord between this group of people. To their credit, (much wood knocking right here) we have not had a single incident. Not even a bad word. On the contrary, this group really enjoys each other. The beautiful thing is, the camaraderie and love that we have fostered has bubbled over to our stage performance. You can tell when you watch the show that this group of people really is a village.

CT Arts Connection: What do you know about Waterbury, CT and the Palace Theater, where you'll be stopping here in Connecticut end of this month?
Tom Hallett: Although I'm not from Connecticut, I went to school at West Point, which is not far from here. So, I am familiar with the area and have been to Waterbury many times. The Palace has a rich tradition within the theater industry as one those old "Pre-Broadway" Houses, similar to the Shubert in New Haven. It is always fun to work at a place where legends have walked.

CT Arts Connection: What opportunities do you have to explore an area or is there no time outside of the show schedule?
Tom Hallett: One of the things I strive to do at every location we are at for more than one night is to do something "touristy." I want to experience the local flavor and to see what makes each town special. I don't want my post tour memories to be of the nice hotel gyms I saw on tour. So, I get out. There are a few of us on tour that really endeavor to see more than just the few blocks in between the hotel and the theater. So far on tour we have seen a lot. 2,500 pictures later, I am still excited about seeing this great country of ours.

CT Arts Connection: Anything you'd like to say to the CT Arts Connection audience?
Tom Hallett: In this day of special effects and high budget shows it is very special to be part of a show that is grounded in its roots and "tradition." The show your audiences will see on stage is very similar to the one that Jerome Robbins directed in 1964. Not a lot of tricks or gadgets. Just a great show, led by an amazing actor, John Preece, who plays Tevye. Speaking of that, John has performed the show over 3,000 times, 1,500 of those performances as Tevye. This is his ninth national tour. John doesn't play Tevye any more, he IS Tevye. When you watch his performance you can't help but wonder if that's what Zero Mostel might have looked like. He is an amazing actor that gives an amazing performance. It is truly one not to be missed

Tickets for Fiddler on the Roof, sponsored by Webster Bank, WTNH/MyTV9, Brass Mill Center, Crystal Rock and Powerstation Events, can be purchased by phone at 203-346-2000, online at http://www.palacetheaterct.org/, or in person at the Palace Theater Box Office, 100 East Main St. in Waterbury. Groups of 20 or more qualify for discounted rates and should call the Group Sales hotline at 203-346-2002. (Below Tom Hallett and Tom the Rabbi)

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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