If Tevye isn’t careful, Khayenne just may steal the spotlight.
Then again, Tevye isn’t the kind of man who would mind. He humbles himself before God, before his wife and - though he hates to admit it - his five daughters.
Sure, he’s the man of the house, supposedly the last word. Those who have watched his story unfold in Fiddler on the Roof knows this.
They also know that Tevye easily can be manipulated by the women in his life, and he humbly reasons out his problems in conversations with God.
Since everyone knows he isn’t a rich man, it seems that star status is one of the few things Tevye can claim as something that belongs only to him, because Tevye is the true star of this show.
Well, that is, until Khayenne steps on the Runnels Theater stage.
Now, Runnels Theater fans will recognize Khayenne as the golden retriever version of Toto in the Runnels School’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Yes, Toto was a golden retriever in that production, and why not?
There’s no written rule that Toto has to be a small dog. Just as there’s no written rule that Fiddler on the Roof must be staged without the presence of a dog.
It’s tradition for Runnels to write in parts for Khayenne in its productions. Khayenne’s late sister Lillian also was included in the school’s plays.
So, it’s only natural for Runnels Community Theater to follow this tradition. They’ll be staging Fiddler on the Roof for three performances, beginning Friday, Aug. 26.
Though Khayenne’s appearance surely will be a hit, she won’t upstage Tevye. Try as she may, she can’t. Tevye is too strong a character. Besides, Tevye will be played by Tom Jones.
Local theatergoers may remember Jones’ portrayals of the Tevye character at Baker Little Theatre, as well as his 50 performances at Aubin Lane Theater.
“I’ve also played Tevye in other places,” Jones said. But he hasn’t played the character since the late 1980s.
“My wife encouraged me to audition for this production,” Jones said. “And I thought I should do it; I should play Tevye a last time before I’m too old to play him.”
“We’re already getting calls from people who are saying they’re Tom’s former students, and they want to know where they can buy tickets,” Ann Dalrymple said.
She’s the show’s director.
“He’s had so many students, and they’re excited about seeing him again,” she said.
Jones was the longtime director of the choral department at Baker High School, where his a cappella choir annually won top honors in the state. He left Baker after the 1992 school year to head the choral department at Scotlandville Magnet School and retired after working 33 years in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.
He’s served the last 23 years as choirmaster at Plains Presbyterian Church, where he also directs handbells.
In the middle of his work at the schools, Jones founded Baker Little Theatre. That community theater no longer exists. The dinner theater is gone, too. But the memories are still there, and Jones still has a lot of fans.
“To be truthful, I was hesitant about choosing Tom for the role at first,” Dalrymple said.
“He’d performed this role so many times, and I didn’t know if he would want to take the role in the direction that we wanted to take him. But Tom is wonderful, and he’s been so professional, and he’s great as our Tevye. And he has such a beautiful voice. He’s been great to work with.”
“My daughters say I’m Tevye,” Jones said, laughing. “He has five daughters, I have three. And like Tevye, I’m conservative, orthodox and traditional.”
Meantime, Jones has nothing but praise for Dalrymple and his fellow cast members, especially Jessica Yellen, who plays Tevye’s wife Golde.
“Jessica has a special quality that makes her the perfect Golde,” Jones said.
“Golde is Tevye’s rock, and Jessica has that quality. She’s great in this part.”
Yellen smiles. She’s clearly touched by Jones’ words, and she agrees that Golde is Tevye’s rock, his foundation.
“She’s also bossy, which is opposite from what I am,” she said, laughing.
Yellen is a teacher at Runnels, as well as a religious instructor at Congregation B’nai Israel. She also has a background in theater and music.
“And this play brings together my two loves,” she said.
Tevye and his family are Jewish living in a small, Jewish community in early 20th century Russia. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone, and it’s filled with - what else? - tradition.
Tevye talks about this tradition throughout the story. The religious part of this tradition is still practiced in Jewish synagogues and temples throughout the world, including Baton Rouge.
“We asked members of the two synagogues in Baton Rouge to audition for this play,” Dalrymple said. “Some of them did and are in the play. One of our missions is to stay true to all of the traditions, and they’re helping us do that.”
Sometimes this mission can take a humorous turn. Take David Kirshner’s role, for instance. He plays the village’s rabbi.
He is asked to bless the tailor Motel’s sewing machine at one point, and he gives the blessing in Hebrew. Well, except for the word, “Machine.”
God surely will understand.
Kirshner teaches monthly Jewish folk dance lessons at B’nai Israel and has choreographed the folk dances for this show.
Then there’s John Runnels. He plays the beggar, and his sidekick is none other than Khayenne.
“We bought Khayenne to be a companion to our dog Lillian,” Runnels said.
“Lillian died last April. We’ll eventually get a puppy to be a companion to Khayenne.”
Khayenne fixes her eyes on Runnels. She’s here for every rehearsal and can perform on cue.
“This is my first time to be on stage as Khayenne’s handler,” Runnels said. “We had to train actors to be her handler in the past, and they were great, but it creates a little more stress for them, because they’re trying to learn lines and blocking, and they have to handle the dog, too.”
Khayenne wags her tail. She’s ready to hit the stage.
Ready for her time in the spotlight.
CAST: Tom Jones, Tevye; Dimitris Nikitopoulos, Lazar Wolf; Suzi Brown, Yente; Jonathan Kinney, Perchik; Blake Mader, Motel; Sara Cormier, Chava; Jessica Yellen, Golde; Jessica Martell, Tzeital; Lindsey Duga, Hodel; Martin McConnell, the Constable; Jay Curry, Fyedka; Alison Nikitopoulos, Fruma-Sarah; Michelle Dearie, Grandma Tzeitel; Arval Bridges, Avram; Ben Cassin, Mendel; David Kirshner, the Rabbi; Parker Tucker, Mordcha The Inkeeper; John Runnels, Nachum; Khayenne, the Begger’s Dog; Ellen Sager, Shaindel; Brett Beoubay, Sasha; Rafael deCastro, Yussel; Kenny Ostrom, the Russian Soldier; Danielle Adams, Edie Bender, Penny Bridges, Anne Bucey, Stacie Burke, Ben Carpenter, Jennifer Carpenter, Brian Clark, Sharon Colomb, Chip Davis, Kim deCastro, Megan Dewberry, Jason Duga, Lisa Fennell, Lisa Gibbs, Claire Gowdy, Pamela Gyan, Caroline Hader, Kelly Heim, Laura Hernandez, Valerie Huston, Neena Kelfstrom, Moninne LaBauve, Arica Lavigne, Kelly Lopez, Jean Martinez, Kristy Mayes, Beth Morrison, Ann Ostrom, Cristin Ponjuan, Mary Pyfrom, Marcelle Soliman, Michelle Richardson, John Scalzo, Mark Stanfield and Michele Stanfield, ensemble.
ARTISTIC STAFF: Ann Dalrymple; director; Jill Swetman, orchestra director; Chris Pyfrom, vocal director