AKRON, Iowa | Forty years ago, Kevin Linder was a high school senior playing Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," a Manning (Iowa) High School production directed by Linder's father, Gary Linder.
Kevin Linder is back in the saddle, or, on the roof, in this case, this week as the Akron Opera House presents "Fiddler on the Roof," with Linder as leading man.
It's not the only reprisal. Linder's wife, Amy Linder, served as accompanist when "Fiddler on the Roof" last played in the venerable Akron Opera House in downtown Akron, in 1979. Then known as Amy Harris, she was a high school student at the time. This time, she's co-directing.
The show, which has a cast of 37, opened on Thursday night. Following a Friday night performance, the run concludes with a 7:30 p.m. show on Saturday and a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee.
"My grandma gave me the soundtrack to 'Fiddler' when I was a kid and I fell in love with it," said Kevin Linder, a well-traveled high school band instructor who now teaches trumpet at Augustana College, Northwestern College and Dordt College, where he also directs jazz band.
(How well-traveled? Kevin Linder directed six jazz bands to the Iowa Jazz Championships in his tenure as high school educator: Anthon-Oto, East, North, South O'Brien, MOC-FV and Rockwell City-Lytton. That HAS to be a record. He still serves as a clinician for multiple high school jazz bands each spring.)
Linder had the "Fiddler" songs memorized before rehearsals began in the fall of 1976, his senior year at Manning. He eventually directed the pit orchestra during a "Fiddler on the Roof" run at North High in 2005.
"I'm so thankful I get to do this again for my dad," said Linder, of Gary Linder, 79, who taught for years at Manning High School and then West Monona High School in Onawa, Iowa. "You don't often get a chance like this, to perform for a parent who means so much to you."
Linder also found some symmetry in the production, which is set in 1905, just one year before the Akron Opera House was built. The structure served as a community focal point for decades until closing and sitting idle until Richard Jacobs, an English and drama teacher at Akron-Westfield, reopened it in 1970.
"It's on the National Registry of Historic Places," said Doug Olson, who took tickets on Thursday. "The story goes that an insurance company (American Life Insurance Co.) from Des Moines promised the people of Akron in the early 1900s that if they bought so many insurance policies, the insurance company would build them an opera house."
The acoustics still hold in this four-story, 280-seat structure. A band recorded an album here one year ago, playing in a site that once hosted basketball games, wedding receptions, vaudeville performers, Chautauquas, operas and more.
"There are signatures of past performers on the back wall of the stage," Amy Linder said.
Kevin Linder said he takes great satisfaction in seeing actors, actresses, singers and musicians ranging in age from 12 to about 65 coming together for a show like this, one of three or so performed annually at the Akron Opera House. Those children, he reminded, will one day be audience members or directors themselves, carrying on a tradition that helps a city grow and breathe.
"The community theater aspect of this is so good as you have kids on stage working with their teachers," said Val Philips, co-director of the show and a teacher at Akron-Westfield. "The venue is also neat. The whole place feels like an antique."
After a day in school, Philips said, she can't help but feel energized as she climbs the steps into the Akron Opera House, readying for another night of rehearsal with a cross-section of residents determined to do their best for the good of this Plymouth County community.
"It's a great community from an artistic standpoint," said Kevin Linder, who not long ago joined Amy in opening the Birdie & Carol Harris School of Performing Arts, a downtown concern named for Amy's late grandmother and mother, respectively.
"They had a lifelong commitment to the arts," he said of the late Birdie and Carol.
A lifelong commitment to the arts. In Akron, there's still a lot of that going around. So the shows go on.