Former Broadway performer to lead Fiddler sing-along at EJFF on May 26

Michele Miller in the 1996 production of Fiddler on the Roof at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Photo supplied.

by Tammy Vineberg

(Edmonton) – Michele Miller knew her destiny when she was five-years-old. She fell in love with singing and dancing and had a call to perform on Broadway. Fiddler on the Roof was one of the first musicals she ever saw, so it’s fitting that Michele is leading the Edmonton Jewish Film Festival’s sing-along of the 1971 Norman Jewison movie on Sunday, May 26.

Her mother, Norma, was an opera singer, and Michele grew up attending her performances. When it came time to learn how to sing, her mother was her teacher. “She always gave me singing lessons because she didn’t trust anyone else,” she says.

After graduating from Hofstra University in New York with a degree in drama conferred magna cum lauda, Michele landed a lead role in the off-Broadway show Runaways, which also had Diane Lane in the cast. The 1978 musical ran for two months at the Public Theatre Cabaret and then headed to Broadway for a 10 month run with Michele going along with the performance.

In 1980, her brother encouraged her to audition for the national Broadway tour of Fiddler on the Roof. Michele was reluctant because she had been on a streak of discouraging auditions. The Fiddler musical director even noticed her unenthusiastic performance during the tryout. But when he asked her to read the lines for Grandma Tzeltl in the dream sequence, it was a match.

Herschel Bernardi starred as Tevye in this production, which was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Herschel had the leading role in the 1964 original Broadway production of Fiddler. “Jerry Robbins came into the room and there was a hush. We were all star struck,” says Michele.

Jerome directed the original production, and she was also in awe of him. “When he would demonstrate a dance move for us, he’d lift his arm up and you would hear an audible gasp because it was so beautiful,” she says.

She was 25 and to play Grandma Tzeltl, white paint disguised her face. One of her favorite moments in the performance was when a chorus member lifted her six feet in the air.

The production finished its seven-month tour in Chicago. A highlight was meeting President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, when Fiddler was on stage at the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. “When Tevye and Golda sang ‘Do you love me?’ we saw them holding hands and looking lovingly at each other. After the show ended, we exited up a winding staircase to our dressing rooms. I turned around and right behind me was President Carter. I was so thrilled and shocked. All I could say was, ‘Hi! I voted for you!’” says Michele.

When she married Josh Miller, they soon moved to his hometown of Edmonton, where his family are founding members of the Jewish community., They had three small children and Michele continued her stage career in Alberta. The Citadel Theatre asked her to reprise her role of Grandma Tzeltl in its 1995-96 production. In this version, the director requested her to appear in her part by popping out of a trunk. In the Broadway tour, she had appeared by coming out of the smoke.

“The crew thought it would be funny if they pasted sexy magazine photos of men inside the trunk to amuse me while I waited for my cue. What they didn’t know was I did not know they did this because I couldn’t see a thing in the trunk’s blackness,” says Michele.

Fiddler on the Roof remains her favourite musical. “It’s about family and the story is so strong. This religious man will go against everything he believes in, so his children are happy. The music, lyrics, and the words are beautiful. All the songs originate from family,” says Michele.

Join Michele as she leads the audience in the sing-along at the Metro Cinema/Garneau Theatre. We encourage costumes and offer free admission for children under 12. You can get your tickets by visiting the film festival website.

Tammy Vineberg is Associate Director, Marketing and Communications at the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. This article was originally published on Hakol, a publication of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton. 

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