Entertainment :: Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof

by J. Autumn Needles
Contributor
Sunday Nov 11, 2012
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The cast of ’Fiddler’
The cast of ’Fiddler’  (Source:Jay Koh)

In talking with a friend before seeing "Fiddler on the Roof," he mentioned how much he was looking forward to it because he knew Village Theatre would do it justice. And they certainly did! This was a marvelous production.

"Fiddler on the Roof" (book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories, which were then made into a series of plays by Arnold Perl. It tells the story of poor dairy farmer Tevye, his wife Golde, their five daughters, and the town and time in which they live: Anatevka, a small village in Russia, in 1905.

While Tevye (Eric Polani Jensen) and Golde (Bobbi Kotula) struggle to find husbands for their three older daughters, Tzeitel (Jennifer Weingarten), Hodel (Emily Cawley) and Chava (Mara Solar) with the help of Yente the matchmaker (Laura Kenny), and to maintain the traditions that make their lives meaningful, the town and the times change around them. An uneasy but civil relationship with the larger Orthodox Christian population of Tsarist Russia degrades into harassment of the Jews and finally pogroms, eventually sending the Jewish families, including Tevye’s, out of the village.

Tevye and Golde are really the only characters in the play that come across as real people; the others are there more to represent in a small and manageable form what is happening in the world on a larger scale, or to provide comic relief. However, the story is real enough and poignant enough, and the musical well enough crafted, to carry the show perfectly well.

Directed by David Ira Goldstein, this production is seamlessly put together, from the beautiful and evocative sets designed by Bill Forrester, to the memorable musical numbers performed so well by the company, to the clean and precise choreography by Kathryn Van Meter, to the marvelous music which is such an integral part of this show provided by the orchestra conducted by Bruce Monroe.

Eric Polani Jensen as Tevye had some big shoes to fill, but his portrayal had depth and richness and didn’t disappoint.

The show opens on a small hut in a rickety but colorful village for the opening number "Tradition" sung by Tevye and company. I wondered how Jensen would do as Tevye, because those are some big shoes to fill from both the original stage production with Zero Mostel and the 1971 movie version with Topol, but his portrayal had depth and richness and didn’t disappoint.

When we move into Tevye’s home, the tiny hut spins around allowing us access to the interior. During the "Sabbath Prayer" as Tevye and Golde sing with their daughters surrounding them, the other villagers appear, dotting the rest of the stage with their own cloth-covered tables and candles, giving us a moving sense of the deep connection the villagers share around their faith.

Throughout the show, I was impressed at how the staging and scenery allowed us to experience both the town as a whole, and the sense of small, impoverished spaces within the homes and shops. In particular, when the townsfolk crowd into Motel’s tiny tailor shop to see his new sewing machine, they all cram into the small space, then one side of the shop is flown out so we in the audience can see the action.

I wondered how they would handle "The Dream" onstage, where Tevye pretends to have a dream about Golde’s grandmother coming back from beyond the grave to warn them not to allow Tzeitel, their oldest daughter, to marry Lazar Wolf (Matthew Posner). In fact, this was one of my favorite parts of the show! It’s a wonderful and hilarious dream sequence, with zombie-like dancers and their headstones, a larger than life puppet of Lazar Wolf’s dead wife, Frume Sarah (Rachel Wilkie), and Tevye weaving through it, manipulating the dream to convince his wife that Tzeitel should marry Motel (Joshua Carter).

I was so impressed with the choreography and dancing in the show. It’s a small space with a large cast, so everything needed to be absolutely clean with no rough edges to come across well, and it all did: from the bottle dancers at Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding, to the drunken celebration at the bar between the Jews and the Orthodox Christians, to the sad lament "Anatevka" as the villagers say goodbye to their town and to each other, to the dancing Fiddler (Adam Somers) guiding Tevye through it all. Go see it!

"Fiddler on the Roof" runs through Jan. 27 at Village Theatre, 303 Front St N in Issaquah (through 12/30) and 2710 Wetmore Ave in Everett (1/4-1/27). For info or tickets, call 425-392-2202 or visit villagetheatre.org.

J. Autumn Needles lives in Seattle where she writes and teaches yoga and fitness.

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