Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Apr 30, 2014
05:11 PM
Stage Write

Father in CTM's 'Fiddler' Reprises Role 30 Years Later

PHOTO BY TOM KLINGELE

If I were a rich man: Mani brings new experience and fatherly perspective to Tevye. 

It was the role that convinced him to pursue a career in acting—even though he admits he was too young to play it at the time.

So as Brian Mani strides on stage to play Tevye in Children’s Theater of Madison’s production of Fiddler on the Roof (running through May 11 in the Overture Center Playhouse), you can bet his mind is filled with a sense of cosmic history.

After all, it was a little over thirty years ago that Mani, better known to local audiences for his work as a member of American Players Theatre’s core company, first stepped into the shoes of the gregarious and strong-willed patriarch. At the time, Mani was a fresh-faced nineteen-year-old, a multi-sport athlete in Freeport, Illinois, and while he liked singing and doing the occasional show, full-time acting wasn’t really in his plans.

Until Fiddler hit him like a bowstring between the eyes.

“When I was younger, I found there was something to the power Tevye wields over the audience,” says Mani. “I could see that I had an audience in the palm of my hand. I found that exciting.”

As a teenager, Mani was touched by the show’s drama and comedy. Now, as the fifty-three-year-old father of three girls, he can also appreciate what a strong yet vulnerable character Tevye is, and the challenges he has to manage in raising five girls, three of whom face decisions that will break them from their faith and family. He can’t help but think of his own daughters.

“The thought of having to deny one of them is heartbreaking,” he says.

Fiddler is the beginning of a strong and meaty 2014 acting slate for Mani, whose APT docket includes stints as Donny in David Mamet’s American Buffalo, Leontes in Much Ado About Nothing and the title character in George Bernard Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma. He’ll actually have to pull double-duty during the final two weeks of Fiddler, splitting his time between performances at CTM and pre-rehearsals at APT.  

Fiddler’s not the only play Mani’s performed more than once in his career—Of Mice and Men and David Hare’s Skylight are also on the list—but it might be the most special. CTM’s production reunites Mani with two old friends—director Roseann Sheridan, who was part of the production staff at APT when Mani first appeared on stage there in 1991, and, in another cosmic touch, Amy Welk, the same woman who played Golda with him in Mani’s first turn in Fiddler all those year ago in Freeport.

“I’ve been waiting for thirty years to do this play again,” Mani says. “When you’re young, you think, 'At least I got one in.' Second chances like this are a lot like a really unexpected mitzvah."

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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