There are two musicals that I know like the back of my hand - mostly because I've played in the pit orchestra for both of them multiple times and when you sit through all the rehearsals of a show, you tend to learn a line or two. One of them is West Side Story. I've played two different performances of this and it's one of my favorites. When I was in college, we participated in a state competition of stage shows and we won best orchestra - which was no easy feat with that music. Bernstein's score, while brilliant, is not very straightforward and certainly not simple to play. I learned to love the score and the fact that just about every musical device that could be employed was... because that's Bernstein. But I won't lie, we worked our little fingers to the bone for every inch of that trophy and complained about it the whole time. I don't remember very much of the play in either production I played in because I was so busy counting and living in fear that I'd miss one of those oh-so-important cues, without which, the dancers wouldn't know whether to kick up or kick out. Last year we went to see the fiftieth anniversary revival of the production at the National Theater in D.C., where it all started in 1957 and it was pretty darn cool especially when I realized halfway through that I was holding my breath for the strings during the fight scene and I wouldn't have to worry about being the only person playing in that grand pause that was coming up.

The other musical I know like a lover is Fiddler on the Roof. When I was probably still in elementary school, I saw it in a theater for the fist time and loved it. Then in high school, I played in the pit orchestra for our school's production of Fiddler. I've often thought that it'd be good training for actors who want to learn their lines to attend high school play rehearsals. Just from the sheer repetition, I know almost every line from every character. I was "the fiddler" in my high school's production - or rather, I played the fiddle solos from the pit while someone else pranced around on stage in a fake beard and pretended to be playing. I've never really understood why they can't use a real violinist in that part, but even in the many professionally-produced performances I've attended, I've not seen it yet. Which is weird, because in the production we saw Friday night, they had the fiddler pantomime playing the violin, but had a real clarinetist and a real accordion player on stage during the wedding scene. I'm still shaking my head over that one.

I could be wrong, but I think that our high school version of Fiddler was also the show where the stage crew decided to be real tools about the auditorium and refused to let us have food or drinks during rehearsals in the pit. Rehearsals that sometimes lasted four hours and started immediately after school and "drinks" that included the water the wind players used for their reeds, so they had to sneak in tiny vials of water to soak their reeds in if they wanted to... you know... play. It got so ridiculous that at the final performance, as an adolescent act of protest, we brought in a toaster oven, cheese, pepperoni, pizza sauce and during the rests in the music and dialogue, while Tevye and Lazar Wolf were toasting La'chaim on stage, we were making mini-pizzas down below and reasoning, "What are they gonna do? Kick us out?" During intermission, I went out to see a few people in the audience and had to play dumb when people said, "I smell pizza. Do you smell pizza?"

We also went around school communicating with each other in only lines from Fiddler, said in the same melodramatic way our peers uttered them on stage:

"After a lifetime, a piece of paper and 'get thee out.'"

"Oh, I'm losing my head. One day it will fall off altogether, and a horse will kick it into the mud, and. goodbye, Yente."

We may or may not have been some of the nerdier kids in the school.

A couple of weeks ago, The KingofHearts came home saying, "I just bought your birthday present... but I'm not gonna tell you what it is... or nevermind, I'll tell you." He reasoned that since the event was nowhere near my birthday and so it made no difference, but I know the truth: no one in this family can keep a secret. His surprise was that he got us tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof with the original actor, Topol, in the role of Tevye.

In 1971, Chaim Topol played Tevye in the film version after making the role his own in the stage production. If you want to see one of the best performances on film or on stage any where, any time, rent this and watch Topol. He is truly entertaining in every sense of the word and if ever there was a person born to play a role, it's Topol born to play Tevye. If you want to see the magic of Topol on stage in person, you still have time - like we did Friday night. Topol, we learned from a quick internet phone search during intermission, was born in 1935. That makes him seventy-four years old as of the performance we just sat through and all I can say is, I wish I could be that spry at seventy-four. From the moment he walked out on stage (and the ovation that ensued when the audience saw him) he was brilliant. Since I've seen the movie multiple times, it was evident that since 1971 he might have slowed down a bit here and there, but also: not much. That big gorgeous voice was still there, he danced around stage with the best of them and in person (and probably after thirty-eight years of playing the same role over twenty five hundred times) he had a lot more fun with the actors and the audience. I kept saying to The KoH how amazing it was that he did such small things on stage, facial expressions, little throaty noises, picking at his actor-children like a father would, etc. and they all translated to that giant room full of people. I don't know many stage actors capable of that.

So instead of going on about him, take a look for yourself. I hope you'll enjoy him as much as we did because it was sure a treat.