Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 7
A man rich in talentPCPA's Erik Stein takes the lead in the upcoming production of 'Fiddler on the Roof'
BY JOE PAYNE
Only a few musicals are household names, pinned down as iconic representations of humanity and art. PCPA is gearing up for a production of one such play, Fiddler on the Roof—one of the most produced musicals and a title familiar to people who’ve never even stepped foot in a theater.
PCPA Theaterfest has provided the Central Coast with several productions of Fiddler over the decades, each revealing its own character as a unique interpretation of the classic. But for Erik Stein, the PCPA resident actor who’ll be playing the lead role of Tevye in the upcoming incarnation, the play has been special ever since the first time he saw it.
“Fiddler on the Roof has been a very important show to me growing up in this business,” he said. “It was actually the first play I ever saw. I was 9 years old, and I remember it so clearly.”
The young Stein was transfixed by some of the techniques used in the musical, specifically when Tevye addresses the audience.
“I’ll never forget that moment when everybody on stage froze and Tevye started talking to the audience,” he said. “I thought that was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.”
Stein also has memories of a past production of Fiddler at PCPA, when he was a student between 1988 and 1990. It was the performance by Anthony Defonte as Tevye that inspired Stein to continue in musical theater.
“I was 19 years old, it was my second year at PCPA, and watching this amazing classically trained actor take on the role of Tevye,” he said, “it was a life altering time for me to see that musical theater is just as profound as working on a Shakespearian piece.”
After he left PCPA in 1990, Stein enjoyed some time on and off Broadway in New York. He performed in Fiddler on the Roof at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, but not the lead role. In 2002, Stein returned to PCPA as an actor, and in 2008 he became a resident actor at the conservatory.
Since then, he’s performed in several memorable PCPA shows, including Urinetown, Romeo and Juliet, and most recently in The Wizard of Oz as the Cowardly Lion. But now, Stein gets the chance to perform the role of his dreams.
“I love Tevye, and one of the fascinating things about him is why does the town come to him?” he said. “He’s not a town official, he’s not a rabbi, he’s the milkman. It’s because he’s accessible, and he listens.”
One of the things Stein finds fascinating about the character and role is his relationship with the audience.
“The audience is like a long-lost friend to him, and he spends too much time alone and listening,” he said. “It is really great for him to have somebody to confide in.”
Tevye’s character is devoutly religious and spends most of the play dealing with his daughters’ romances, which illustrate the changing customs in an evolving world.
“Part of the Jewish faith that I have learned from my research and from talking to people of the Jewish faith is that you are in a constant debate with God,” Stein said. “I love that Tevye has this great relationship with God and talks to him on a very regular basis and is not afraid to ask, ‘Why is this?’”
It’s this dialogue that makes up the subject of one of the musical’s most popular numbers: “If I Were a Rich Man.” Tevye concedes that God has a master plan, but would it be such a deviation if he were wealthy?
“Tevye has a hard life, but he loves his life,” Stein said. “There’s great joy and huge celebration throughout the play.”
This production is seeing a change of venue for PCPA. The Marian Theatre, the usual venue for PCPA’s main shows, is being renovated, so Arroyo Grande’s Clark Center for the Performing Arts will be home to the first run of the production before the musical moves to the Solvang Festival Theatre in the summer.
“You know, it’s funny: I love the Marian Theatre. It’s where I got my training, so I feel most at home there,” he said. “That being said, I still like new experiences and the unknown. I think it will be a fun spark for us.”
When not performing or rehearsing for upcoming productions, Stein is also a casting director for PCPA, overseeing auditions for productions and for applying conservatory students. He also teaches audition techniques and the business of acting.
“[Something] that I’m really proud of is that we have professionals who are in the business teaching the students,” he said, “so they are being taught by people who are really doing it.”
A theater lover through and through, before he was full time at PCPA, Stein founded the California Cabaret Theatre. He’s also a playwright, having written for the Great American Melodrama, including Under the Boardwalk and The Zombie Vaudeville Review among others.
“I’m incredibly grateful to PCPA and the Central Coast community that supports PCPA and sees the value of having a professional resident theater company,” he said. “This is why we do these shows … [There] are people everywhere who are seeing them for the first time.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne wishes he were a rich man. Contact him at email@example.com.