Lauren Blair Smith sometimes portrays a woman in the national tour of “Fiddler on the Roof,” coming to Wilmington this week.
Sometimes, she’s one of the guys.
Smith, who snagged the role as a dancer and understudy to two of the featured characters right out of college, dances as a woman in the first big musical scene, “Tradition.”
Then she pulls up her pants and jumps in with the guys for “To Life.”
“You can definitely spot me,” she says. “I’m like just over 5 foot and all the guys are probably at least 6 foot.”
“Fiddler on the Roof” follows a Jewish family with five daughters of marriageable age, with minds of their own about who they’ll marry. They live in a 1905 Russian town that the military is trying to push Jews out of.
The musical will play Thursday through Saturday at the Playhouse on Rodney Square, 1007 N. Market St., with matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $48-$107. The best tickets left are Friday and Saturday nights.
The musical is nearly 60 years old, and Smith said one of the things she’s realized is how much its themes continue to resonate in today’s world, including dealing with change, women’s rights and ethnic cleansing.
After each show, the cast tells the audience that it’s dedicating the performance to Ukraine and its people, who are fighting Russia.
At 23 and just out of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Smith had returned home to Singapore after graduation last year when she got a call from her teacher. He told her that producers were casting “Fiddler on the Roof” and he thought she was a good fit. So did the producers.
Smith, who was born in San Francisco, moved to Singapore with her family when she was 3. She ended up in North Carolina for university after attending a summer dance intensive there between her junior and senior years at Singapore American School.
Officially, Smith’s degrees are a bachelor’s in fine arts in contemporary dance and a minor in arts entrepreneurship.
When she returned to Singapore, she founded her own dance company and became a Lincoln Center Kenan Fellow.
She’s managing the company from the road and just finished the fellowship, which required the six fellows to create a show together, Smith said during a phone call from the airport in Columbia, South Carolina.
Until she signed on with “Fiddler,” Smith said she had no idea dancers could create a career in traveling shows. She’s already been asked back for next year’s tour and could imagine doing it for several years.
But having a steady job in a place like New York and Singapore would be great, too, she said.
“Life sometimes can throw you some curveballs, so I’m excited to see what happens,” she said.
Smith hasn’t been home since she started the tour in October. She now only gets to go home during summer, when she stays for a few months.
That makes managing her dance company and its summer intensive program a bit tricky.
She’s determined, though, to offer dancers there the opportunity to push their craft with something like summer intensives, to which she didn’t feel like she had access to in high school.
The lengthy absence from her family and the city she considers home haven’t been an issue, she said.
“I do miss them, but I think when you’re on tour, you create a sort of family within the cast and the crew and the musicians,” she said. “It’s such a supportive system and we all become like family”
The cast explores cities and goes on hikes together, she said.
“We’re always up to look for new ice cream spots,” Smith said.
She’s also enjoyed seeing parts of the United States that she’s never seen and never dreamed she’d see.
“That in itself is such a gift, and I’m very lucky and very grateful,” she said.
Smith said she’s played one of the sisters, Shprintze or Bielke, about 30 times, which is about one-sixth of the shows she’s done. It was usually because of COVID-19, she said.
The actors often don’t find out until about 30 minutes before the curtain that they will be doing another role, she said.
The version of “Fiddler” that’s coming to Wilmington is based on a well-received Broadway revival of a few years ago.
Smith says most theatergoers seem to be most wowed by the dream sequence. It pops up when the father makes up a nightmare to convince his superstitious mother that the older daughter should not marry the old butcher that the mother wants her to.
“The costumes are amazing for that number specifically and I love just everything about it,” she said.
She also really likes “Tradition,” the opening number.
“It’s just an incredible way to delve into this world,” she said.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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