Rochester-and the JCC in particular-is the perfect location to debut this piece…
by Colin Fleming-Stumpf Oct. 8, 2021
After 18 long theatre-less months, Rochester’s JCC Centerstage Theatre is once again welcoming audiences indoors (various performances were held over the summer at the more COVID-friendly outdoor Dawn Lipson Canalside Stage). And what better way to celebrate the return to live indoor theatre than by exploring the origin story of home-grown Broadway star Bruce Sabath?
“Searching for Tevye” is the autobiographical one-man-show written and performed by Bruce Sabath, a Brighton native who, in his mid-thirties, left a cushy career in the upper echelons of finance and C-suite consulting firms to pursue his dream of acting professionally. Over the course of 90 intermission-less minutes Bruce chronicles the journey from his childhood in the suburbs of Rochester to the halls of Harvard and Wharton Business School, to Wall Street, way back down to the jungle of casting calls and open auditions, to his fledgling beginnings in regional theatre and off-off Broadway, and finally to the culmination of Tony nominations, becoming friendly with Stephen Sondheim, and achieving his theatrical dream of playing Tevye in the off-Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” (in Yiddish!). Along the way Bruce regales the audience with folksy acoustic guitar tunes from his youth, well-known showtunes (supported by an onstage band), and even dusts off his clarinet.
Rochester-and the JCC in particular-is the perfect location to debut this piece, as Bruce’s Jewish upbringing plays a central role in his origin story, as do local landmarks like Brighton High School, Temple B’rith Kodesh, and Eastman Kodak. “Searching for Tevye” covers Bruce’s many childhood performances and defining theatrical experiences, but “Fiddler on the Roof”, and specifically the leading role of Tevye, act as the emotional through line of the entire piece. Throughout his childhood and early career Bruce was constantly circling “Fiddler”, getting cast in lesser roles or passed over entirely, always being told it wasn’t the right time or that he was too young-and paradoxically, also too old? -to play the show’s central character with whom he so identified.
While there are short stretches in the middle of “Searching for Tevye” that drag a bit (I would probably trim out 10-15 minutes of him detailing his corporate resumé), the show’s final chapter-in which Bruce realizes his dream of putting on Tevye’s hat on a Broadway stage-is well worth the wait, especially to hear him perform selections of “Fiddler” in Yiddish, to be joined on stage by JCC regular and always-wonderful Davida Bloom, and to even lead the audience in a Yiddish sing-along. It’s a satisfying and emotional end to a truly wild-and entertaining-ride.
“Searching for Tevye” is heartfelt, inspirational, and great fun for all, particularly lifelong Rochesterians who share his roots. It’s playing at the JCC’s Centerstage Theatre until October 10th, for tickets and more information, click here.