After directing about 60 productions of various sizes in his 33-year career and helming the performance of The Sound of Music at Gateway Theatre last year, actor/director Chris McGregor returns to Gateway this December to tackle his literally largest project to date: Fiddler on the Roof.
"It's a big production," he said. "It cost thousands and thousands of dollars to put this together.
"There are 30 people involved on stage - 25 of the people are volunteers and five professionals. So that's a big scheduling nightmare."
Rehearsing in a cavernous abandoned furniture store at Lansdowne Mall in preparation for the Dec. 14 opener, McGregor had the option of redoing the hugely successful The Sound of Music again, but opted to try something new.
And even though the tale of the struggles of Russian-Jewish milkman Tevye and his five daughters has been told many times before, the animated 49-year old director said he wanted his actors to personalize their performances.
"We have a fantastic musical director, Allen Stiles, who makes them sound good rather than make them sound like Zero Mostel (the actor who played Tevye in the 1964 Broadway musical) or Barbara Streisand," said McGregor. "You have to sound like you, make it honest and true."
McGregor added that in his productions the scenes and songs such as "If I Were a Rich Man", "Tradition" and "Sunrise, Sunset" remain true to the original production, however their approach is new and how they arrive at the end will be different than audiences have seen before.
Unlike other adaptations, which have been vague in setting an exact date the story takes place, he chose Aug. 20, 1905 to Jan. 4, 1906.
"There's a very specific reason I chose that time period," said McGregor. "On Aug. 17, 1905, the Tsar sent out a manifesto that directly influenced what happened to the Jews.
"They were persecuted somewhat and people were afraid they would be revolting against the Tsar, so all of a sudden these large pilgrimages were happening throughout the country and it started this wave to force the Jews out."
Reading books about the Russian revolution, watching old films and researching on the Internet gave McGregor a good idea on the visuals he wanted to present.
He and local costume designer Carmen Alatorre were meticulous in ensuring everything appears traditional using lots of time-period-specific-looking wools and linens. For the set design, he compared it to a children's pop-up book.
"It's playful. There are five houses in the background, risers and then there are these things that pop up that make different worlds. A gravestone pops up on one of the risers, and part of the riser will roll-up and be the bed so it's all very theatrical."
Tickets are $48 for adults/seniors, $30 for students and $43 for groups of 10-plus.
Fiddler on the Roof plays at Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Rd. from Dec. 12 to 31, to purchase tickets go to gatewaytheatre.com.