Chatting with Blake Bowden from Fiddler On The Roof
Fiddler on The Roof is currently playing at The Capitol Theatre. Anthony Warlow stars in this brand new production, with a stellar cast including Sigrid Thornton, Mark Mitchell and LIOR.
During the run in Sydney, Bec Caton will be chatting with some of the cast members to see what the experience has been like so far and what they’re looking forward to for their time in Sydney.
Blake Bowden, 2011 Rob Guest Endowment Winner, and frequent star of Australian stage, is playing the role of Perchik. We chatted with him about politics, on stage mishaps, and the timelessness of Fiddler.
When did you first discover Fiddler? Did you watch the movie as a child?
I watched the film as a kid. I have such fond memories of [Chaim] Topol in that production and then I saw it about 10 years ago when it was last here. I’ve always loved the music and the story. It always made me laugh and I always found it incredibly moving. And researching it again when the auditions came around, I was so surprised by how moved I was by the piece and how relevant it still is.
What have you found most challenging about playing Perchik?
I think that with Perchik it’s marrying that Bolshevik revolutionary student with his strengths and idealistic drive, with the softer, younger, romantic side of him. In rehearsals it took me some time to find that perfect balance. But Roger Hodgman is so incredible and really held my hand throughout that process. And working with Monica [Swayne] has been wonderful because as Hodel she kind of encapsulates both the fire and the softness of Hodel, which is a real delight to play against and makes my job incredibly easy.
What have you found most enjoyable or rewarding about the role?
It’s such incredible writing and the audience finds Perchik incredibly charming. There’s some great moments of comedy in there because he’s not very good at expressing emotion, so there are some moments in the show that are quite amusing, but also he has incredible fire and I really enjoy playing a character with such high ideals. It’s so wonderful and it’s a great challenge. Over the years playing different ingénue roles, this one has been one of my favourites because of his huge passion and fire.
Do you share a passion for political activism like your character?
I wouldn’t say that I have the exact same ideals as him; I think Bolshevism is an incredibly extreme version of politics, but I definitely do find politics interesting, and I’m always up to date on Australian politics and currently American politics, so it wasn’t a difficult thing for me to connect with. It was a real joy for me doing all the readings about Bolshevism and the Russian revolution at the turn of last century and finding out what that was. And I think sometimes it can be quite difficult when they’re such extreme views, then trying to find how they relate to me. And I think some of the beautiful things about Bolshevism were connection to people and putting people before everyone else, and I’m not a socialist but I do kind of share some of those same views that we should be putting people first before any of those other things.
What’s your favourite song to sing in the show?
Possibly ‘Sunrise, Sunset’, it has such an incredible melody and it’s with the entire ensemble. And with that number I’m standing in front of the ensemble and next to Anthony Warlow, and it’s not a bad thing to get to sing next to him. Everyone in the show is such incredible vocalists and getting to blend harmony like that is incredible.
I actually really like singing ‘Now I Have Everything’ which is the song I sing at the top of Act 2, I mean of course I’m going to say this because it’s my solo number, but I actually think it’s one of the most underrated songs in the piece. It’s one of those songs nobody knows and nobody remembers but the sentiment of the song is so stunning. Perchik is saying because of his political aims he thought he had his life sorted but then he meets this girl and now he understands what life is about because he has love. And I get to sing with Monica, which is very special.
What’s it like getting to work with such an incredible cast?
Unbelievable. I mean, Warlow is just one of the best in the world, and the best this country has ever produced. Sharing a space with him and getting to do scene work with him, it’s so much. He’s also just a wonderful man.
Most of my scene work is with Monica and she’s such a beautiful actor and a beautiful singer, and every night she gives me 110% and she’s playful as well, which is really wonderful, and so is Anthony. That’s the great thing about working with actors of this calibre: no matter if we’ve done the show 100 times, it always feels fresh and that’s always special.
Any funny stories from the rehearsal room or any onstage mishaps?
I’m a little bit nervous to tell you this, but there’s this moment in Act 2 when Anthony is monologuing to God and Monica and I are holding hands and staring at each other quite intently because it’s a very serious moment. In the beginning of the run in Melbourne, we used to stare into each other’s eyes. But this one show I had a piece of fluff attached to my hat and Monica found it quite hilarious so she started corpsing (giggling) and I started giggling and for the next week of shows, every time we looked at each other in that moment we’d start laughing. Which is so terrible! And we’d say to each other backstage, ‘we are part of an elite group of actors, we cannot be laughing’, but we would anyway! So we had to change it, so now we don’t look at each other’s eyes, we look just past each other. Which still looks like we’re looking at each other but we cannot bring ourselves to stare at each other! These things happen and you have to find ways around them.
Are there any other classic shows on your bucket list?
There’s many Rodgers and Hammerstein I’d like to do. I’d love to do Carousel, playing Billy is like a dream role for me. I’d also love to do Curly in Oklahoma. I love the classics. I have been very lucky to date in my career that I’ve done some of the most beautiful shows of the musical theatre canon.
What was a highlight from the Melbourne run?
This sounds benign but that people have really connected with it. And a lot of people actually don’t know Fiddler, which surprises me. And they come and see the show and they’re so moved by it and so genuinely complimentary, you can really tell when people are genuinely moved by what you’ve done. That’s been the most special part of Fiddler for me. It’s such an incredible piece of writing and people are genuinely still affected by it. And that’s really special to be a part of.
This musical is over 50 years old. What do you think makes the show so special?
I think it’s that perfect combination that every musical is striving to strike: narrative, a great book and a wonderful score, and of course incredible choreographic moments. And Fiddler has all of those things. Jerome Robbins’ original choreography is still wonderful, the book is still as fresh as it ever was and that’s evident in every night the audience really respond: they laugh, they cry and we can feel that. For a book that’s nearly 50 years old to be still doing that, there’s real power in that. And of course there’s the music, it’s just so stunning and has stood the test of time. It’s a perfect combination and it’s very rare for that to happen. To get the perfect combination is why a show like Fiddler is still as popular and as powerful as it ever was.
What are you excited for about the run in Sydney?
I’m just excited for people to see it and to be honest I‘m really sad it’s ending as soon as it is, because it has been such a special process and it’s such a beautiful role with such an incredible group of artists in such a great show. I wish we could be doing it for another year, that would be lovely. I’m really excited for people to come see this production; I think it’s really special. And to be honest, to see Warlow, I mean he is really magnificent and I’m excited for people to see his interpretation of this role.
Fiddler On The Roof is playing at the Capitol Theatre until the 8 May. Book tickets at Ticketmaster.