Obadiah Jones as Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ | AspenTimes.com

Obadiah Jones as Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Michael Faas/The Aspen TimesAspen High School senior Obadiah Jones, center, stars as Tevye in Jayne Gottlieb Productions' version of "Fiddler on the Roof," playing Friday and Saturday at Basalt Middle School.

BASALT – “Music is really my thing,” said Obadiah Jones, an Aspen High School senior who is in the process of applying to college music programs. But on the application to the music department of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a U.K. school founded by Paul McCartney, Jones took account of the section that asked if there were other art forms, outside of music, that he had experience with.”They encourage you to be at least curious about other arts,” the 17-year-old Woody Creek resident noted.Jones has, in fact, been involved with musical theater for nearly as long as he has been playing guitar. But currently, he is adding what might be the ultimate musical theater rsum item. Jones stars as Tevye in the Jayne Gottlieb Productions version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which opened Thursday and runs through Saturday, Nov. 20 at the Basalt Middle School. It is a role that is as broad, full and human as any Broadway character. The father of five daughters, and a respected member of his shtetl community in early 20th-century Russia, Tevye is God-loving and funny, tormented and affectionate, introspective and loquacious. And he also has a long list of memorable songs: the tender “Sunrise, Sunset,” the humorous “Do You Love Me?” the celebratory “To Life,” and his signature lament/wish, “If I Were a Rich Man.””I couldn’t ask for a better character to play,” Jones said. “He’s so down to earth and real. Natural, I think. I don’t have to put on anything; I don’t have to put on a front, or fake it. I just have to find him in me.”Jayne Gottlieb, who co-directs “Fiddler” with Corey Simpson and Logan Carter, believes she couldn’t have asked for a better actor to play Tevye. “This is absolutely his show,” she said. “It’s such a complex role. Obadiah comes to rehearsal so prepared. He’ll reason with me, the choices he wants to make, to show what Tevye’s going through.”Gottlieb pointed out that Jones has to go through at least one personal transformation to portray Tevye: “Obadiah’s a soft-spoken kid – and Tevye is not a soft-spoken man,” she said.But there is one aspect of the character that Jones, no matter how much time and skill he puts into it, will have a hard time finding. Tevye is not just a middle-aged man with decades of life behind him, but a man whose experience, whose age and years and accumulated wisdom, are a vivid, living part of the role. The musical’s opening number is “Tradition,” in which Tevye proclaims that without the age-old traditions of the Eastern European Jewish community, life in their village of Anatevka would be as shaky as “a fiddler on the roof.””As far as depth of character and life experience shaping their characters, that’s where you run into a wall with children’s theater – their lack of experience,” Gottlieb said. “The whole thing Tevye’s built his life upon – his traditions, his ways, being married for 25 years – are based on experience. Without Obadiah, I don’t know if we’d have a show.”Jones says that a key for him in nailing the spiritual, book-loving, wisdom-seeking Tevye has been to first discover the physical presence of the character. A milkman who works with a heavy cart and large animals, Tevye also projects size and strength. When Jones finally got his essential prop – the cart that Tevye uses for his milk run – he began to feel the character.”That’s a really good prop. It adds weight,” he said. “Having that cart makes me realize that he’s doing this every day of his life. It’s a natural thing, but also a burden. And that puts me in his experience.”Jones’ favorite part of Tevye, though, is the very opposite of the physical. It is Tevye’s spiritual side, manifested in the ongoing conversation – pious, humorous, familiar, sometimes testy – he has with God.”His best friend is God,” Jones said. “These monologues he has with God, that’s great. I like the idea of him being able to talk to God, and talk about his life and his problems. It’s so nice and natural.”Along with the challenge that is playing Tevye, Gottlieb said there is one enormous boost: the script, by writer Joseph Stein and composer Jerry Bock, both of whom died in recent weeks, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick. Upon its Broadway debut, “Fiddler on the Roof” earned nine Tony Awards, and became the longest-running musical in Broadway history at the time. A 1991 revival also earned a Tony; the 1971 film version earned three Academy Awards, and was nominated for best picture.”It’s the only script I’ve ever worked on where every line is so clearly chosen. I almost want to put the script in the program, because people should read it,” Gottlieb said. “It’s a musical that transcends what you think of as a musical. To me, it’s so telling about what we’re like as humans.”••••Jones may not have done quite the living that Tevye has done, but for a small-town 17-year-old, he’s had a good bit of experience as a performer.He comes from an artistic family: Jones’ mother, Claire McDougall, writes realistic novels about her native Scotland; both McDougall and her husband, Paul Jones, play music. Obadiah’s older sister, Naomi, is an actor and playwright in New York; his younger sister, Talitha, plays a villager in “Fiddler.” A cousin plays in the Scottish rock band, Jakil.Obadiah picked up the guitar at 5, and it was only a few years later that he started playing music with a friend, Cooper Means. In 2005, when they were 12, Jones and Means found another young musician, bassist Miles Phillips, and they formed Slightly White. With Jones on lead guitar and vocals, and with a repertoire heavy on classic rock songs that predate the band members by a few decades – Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix – Slightly White has become one of the most prominent local bands in Aspen. They have to their credit some dozen appearances at Belly Up, and opening sets for Joe Cocker, Little Feat and Dave Mason.Alongside rock ‘n’ roll, there has been musical theater. Jones attended the Aspen Community School, whose curriculum included an original musical each year, featuring the entire student body.”That was a huge factor in my theater upbringing, the fact that we took a month out of school to throw ourselves into a fabulous performance. That’s a magical time. You got to be at the Wheeler,” Jones, who in eighth grade played the lead role in “King Arthur & the Magic Cup,” said.At Aspen High, Jones has been in productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “The Wizard of Oz”; he was a chorus member in Aspen Community Theatre’s “Chicago.” Earlier this year, he participated for the first time with Jayne Gottlieb Productions, playing Claude in “Hair.””In ‘Hair,’ it was easier for me to be myself,” Jones said, comparing that role to Tevye. “It was a younger part; I didn’t have to do that much acting. It took a longer time getting comfortable being Tevye.”Likely, what made playing Claude easy was that Jones spent part of his time in “Hair” with a guitar on his shoulder, a most natural prop for him. In addition to Slightly White, Jones has been creating his own music; he has recorded seven original songs at Aspen’s Great Divide Studios. And he recently started guitar lessons with Smokin’ Joe Kelly, a local player who played with Ike Turner and Bill Withers. In addition to the Liverpool Institute, Jones is applying to the Berklee College of Music, in Boston.”Music’s always been my thing,” Jones, who is also developing an affection for classical music, especially Mozart, said. “I’ve never known anything else, never wanted to know anything else.”Actually, his interests aren’t quite that narrow. Along with being an International Baccalaureate student in music, Jones is taking IB classes in physics, math, English, Spanish and history. And just around the corner is some straight acting: In January, he will appear in Theatre Aspen’s Teen Winter Conservatory production of the comedy “The Curious Savage,” which takes place in a 1950s mental institution.Jones says that theater “is not my priority. But if it comes, I won’t block it out. I do love theater. But you can’t do everything.”stewart@aspentimes.com