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At Long Last, She's Back on Broadway
By RAVEN SNOOK
Monday, January 11, 2016  •  
Mon Jan 11, 2016  •  
Building Character  •   0 comments Share This
When I started rehearsals, I realized how much I had missed about this show when I was young.

After a decade away, Alix Korey returns to New York in Fiddler on the Roof

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Welcome to Building Character, TDF Stages' ongoing series on actors and how they create their roles

Broadway belter and comic character actress Alix Korey (pictured above, on the right) has always possessed an admirable sense of humor about the ups and downs of her life and career. Her hilarious bio is filled with crazy anecdotes, including that time she "became a household name as the actress in Pirates of Penzance who got hit by a bicycle in Central Park and suffered a severe skull fracture." For three decades, she worked consistently on NYC stages (both on Broadway and off), was a popular cabaret artist, and also mentored aspiring performers as a teacher at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. But in 2005, after appearing in the Elvis Presley jukebox musical All Shook Up, the native Brooklynite packed up and moved with her husband to Rancho Mirage, California.

"I left because I had the best experience theatrically of my life with All Shook Up," Korey explains. "It was such a great show -- wonderful people, wonderful direction -- but it wasn't very well produced, so ultimately it closed very early. It was my sixth or seventh flop on Broadway and I thought, 'Oh boy, I better go away now so that I don't become a bitter old bitch here!'" Not that she retired on the West Coast. She continued to teach and perform, and she even landed a role in a Broadway bound revival of Funny Girl that ended up being scrapped before rehearsals began. And yet that ill-fated production was indirectly responsible for her return to the Great White Way. Its director, Bartlett Sher, thought of Korey when casting Yente the matchmaker in his lauded revival of Fiddler on the Roof at the Broadway Theatre.

"I was thrilled when he actually remembered me," says Korey, who sent in a video for her initial audition before flying in to New York for the final callback. "One of the things I felt bad about [when Funny Girl fell apart] is that I had wanted to work with Bart. And it's been fabulous!"

Focused on Tevye and his five spirited daughters in a turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish shtetl in Russia, Fiddler has figured prominently in Korey's life. She saw the original 1964 Tony-winning Broadway production as a young teen, and when she was starting out as an actress in her twenties, she played daughters Hodel and Chava in two different regional productions. But Sher's revival, which is tonally dark and uses a modern-day framing devise, has given her a deeper appreciation of what she calls "the perfect musical."

The cast of
The cast of 'Fiddler on the Roof'

"When I started rehearsals, I realized how much I had missed about this show," Korey says. "The narcissism of youth kept me much more focused on what Hodel's and Chava's lives were about way back then, whereas I have a much bigger picture now of the various aspects of the stories and the characters. My dad was a human rights activist, so I grew up knowing about all of the oppression we faced [as Jews], from the Spanish Inquisition on. And yet, here we supposedly have the homeland and it's only gotten worse in the sense that we're not learning from history. Out of fear and ignorance, we're still doing horrible things to other people. This production really states that. I'm glad young people are seeing this version."

Not to say there isn't a lot of joy in this Fiddler. Exuberant numbers like "If I Were a Rich Man," "Tradition, " and "To Life" (by Sheldon Harnick and the late Jerry Bock) beg to be sung along to (though most audiences graciously resist). And of course, in keeping with Korey's long history of playing comic relief characters like Matron Mama Morton in Chicago and Ellie in Showboat, her Yente nails every punchline in her big scene with Tevye's wife Golde (Jessica Hecht), who's anxious to find suitable matches for her daughters. Yet even in her jokes, there's an underlying seriousness. "Ah, children, they are your blessing in your old age," Yente tells Golde. "My poor Aaron, God rest his soul, couldn't give me children. Between you and me, Golde, he hardly tried."

The fact that Yente is a childless widow is key in what Korey thinks is her most poignant scene. "The moment when we're all lighting the Shabbat candles, I'm the only one standing at a table by myself," she says. "Yente is a woman alone and for her, that's not good. It's one of the things that makes her feel she's got to match people up. She's trying to create family. She really believes in what she's doing. It's not just a financial thing. For her, 'Even the worst husband, God forbid, is better than no husband, God forbid.' So the context is very important. I like her because she makes jokes. I find her entertaining. But I find her very practical, too."

Of course in real life, Korey is not a woman alone. But Fiddler means that she and her longtime husband Randy Hansen, a former actor turned sound designer, are being forced to spend some time apart, especially since it looks like the show's going to play for a while. "For me it's a very unusual experience to be in a hit show -- look at my résumé," she jokes. "And all these people are sending me notes about how happy they are for me, and I'm going, 'Wait, I'm not dead? This is fantastic!'"

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Follow Raven Snook at @RavenSnook. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Photos by Joan Marcus. Top image: Jessica Hecht and Alix Korey in Fiddler on the Roof.

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