Fiddler on the Roof graced Broadway in 1964, received nine Tony Awards, and was the first show I remember seeing at the age of 7. Zero Mostel played Tevye. There isn’t a time in my life that I don’t remember knowing the words to Tradition, having heard One Hand One Heart or cried to Far From the Home I Love. It is show rich in Jewish stereotypes, humor, music and history. And Pasadena Theatre Company also loves this show. Chuck Dick magically reprises his role as Tevye and simultaneously directs it. Sort of like juggling while jumping on a trampoline.
Beginning with the cast enveloping the audience from the aisles you are at once a part of the scene. The 75 seat auditorium is an intimate venue in which to see this iconic show. Held in the Humanities Recital Hall at Anne Arundel Community College, the cast of 42 actors and actresses fill the snug stage with song and dance with a simple set designed by Chuck Dick (is there anything that you cannot do Mr. Dick?), also with help from Al Caldwell and Chris Leabhart. Choreographer Andrew Gordon does an amazing job keeping with the traditions of dance within this small stage. The dance is complex and the cast from beginning to end is well rehearsed in movement. When Tevye talks to God, which is often throughout the show, lighting designer Brooke Hunsaker takes the opportunity to be center stage. Light shining on Tevye is God listening or in many cases ignoring His friend Tevye. The music direction is run by Robert White. It is a recorded orchestration, which is particularly difficult for live actors but the cast adapts with finesse.
The dance is complex and the cast from beginning to end is well rehearsed in movement.
The Orthodox community in Russia in the early 1900’s is very much like many small towns today. In one of the first scenes, the song “Tradition” states that “everyone knows who they are, and what God expects of them.” But like every generation of the last two centuries, the young have different ideas than their parents. Originally thought to be “too Jewish” to gain a broader audience, Fiddler has shown that it can stand the test of time. While Tevye is certainly the narrator, it is Golde, played by Heidi Toll who plays the strong-willed wife who holds the family together.
Jewish Eastern Europe was indeed a place of superstition, where they emphasized their disgust for something with a hearty spit to ward off the evil eye! Tevye and Golde were matched by a matchmaker and live as man and wife never knowing if there was love between them until one day, Tevye asks, Do You Love Me? Her answer, “I suppose I do.” Past generations married because their parents told them to, there are still members of certain cultures who believe who better to see to your future than the parents who love you? I have attempted to bring this practice back in my own family with unsuccessful results.
Tzeitel, played by Sandy Rardon insists on marrying the man she loves, Motel, played by Paul Ballard. Their voices, movement and eye contact made me believe and cheer for their union. Mr. Ballard had me at “even a poor tailor deserves happiness.” However, it is Hodel, the middle of the 3 elder daughters, played by Julia Salatti, who truly stands out in this cast. Her dulcet soprano voice is worth the price of admission all by herself. But there are other great surprises in this show, Chava, played by Kathryn Sacha along with her forbidden love of a gentile Fyedka, played by Austin Slaton, are a reminder that marrying out of your religion has never been, and still is not, easy. Miss Salatti’s sings “Far from the Home I love,” and had me reaching for tissues. The three older girls sing and dance expressively as the younger two realize that when Yente brings them a groom, that they could be stuck for good.
Jews have throughout history loved their music, but a musician’s life, especially in a poor country must rely on the generosity of the community. Matt Schnell, a welcome change to most versions of this production, actually plays the instrument rather than pretending. He was simply wonderful.
My favorite character in the show has always been Yente, the meddling matchmaker. Such a stereotype of a Jewish woman, and actress Karen Eske hits the nail on the head. She was a scene stealing marvel. The fact that she reminded me of most of my female relatives only added to my enjoyment. From stereotypes there are truths some pleasant some not, but who doesn’t love a Yente, of course you do!
Other notable moments was the famous dream scene when Tevye attempts to convince Golde that the match for Tzeitel might not be made in heaven. Tevye brings Golde’s grandmother, played by Allison Martin the night I viewed the performance, back from the dead in a dream sequence. Her Mazel tovs for the union of Tzeitel and Motel a match made in heaven. Interrupted by the scary character Fruma Sara, the Lazer Wolfe’s dead wife also appears threatening the couple’s first born if she were “to live in my house, Carry my keys, And wear my clothes, Pearls, How?”
And while you may have seen Fiddler on the Roof before, it is always entertaining, continually relevant to see how much society has changed, and how it has stayed exactly the same too.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and a half with one intermission.
Fiddler on the Roof runs through June 14, 2015 at Pasadena Theatre Company, Anne Arundel Community College, Humanities Recital Hall, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD. For tickets and for more information click here.