Monthly Archive for: ‘September, 2014’
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Photos by Eric Chazankin
“Fiddler” is a Toast to Life
Here’s an interesting factoid about the original 1964 Broadway production of the highly acclaimed musical “Fiddler on the Roof”: The title, poster art and set design were all inspired by the celebrated Russian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall. Two of his paintings, “The Fiddler” from 1912, and “The Green Fiddler” from 1924, both show, in vivid colors, a fiddler cavorting on the rooftops of tiny homes. The dreamscape imagery represents music and dance as integral to life and a way to achieve communion with God, but the musical suggests even more. Based upon a series of stories published in the 1890s by Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem, the “Fiddler on the Roof” in the musical also represents the tenuousness of life as we joyfully struggle each day to do, and be, the best we can. The music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, produced one of the most powerful and cherished works in the history of theatre. It was the first musical ever to exceed 3000 performances, and for almost ten years held the record for the longest-running show. It won nine Tony awards.
The story has been an enduring classic for 50 years because of it tremendous scope and beauty. It takes place in a small Jewish village in 1905 Russia just as the Revolution is fermenting and the Jews are coming under siege. A dairyman named Tevye and his family are facing political and social turmoil as they’ve never seen before. The 20th century is moving in fast, and the old traditions they used to hold dear are no longer holding up. They must shift, like the fiddler on the roof, to keep their balance as they and their village celebrate life’s events with humor and hope.
The richly textured production at Cinnabar has a cast of superb vocal talent. Leading the way is Stephen Walsh as Tevye, devoted to his family and his God. Walsh delivers a warm, sensitive and deeply satisfying rendition of this beloved character. He brings down the house with ”If I Were a Rich Man”, one of many one-sided conversations he has with God. Elly Lichenstein plays Golde, Tevye’s wife and mother of their five daughters, as a sturdy, Jewish earth-mother with a soaring, lovely soprano voice that’s showcased in numbers like “Do You Love Me?” and “Sabbath Prayer”. Madeleine Ashe in a key role as the village matchmaker Yenta is a champion scene-stealer.
This show is all about the music and features pretty ambitious Russian-Jewish dancing which sets the audience to clapping in time. The show takes off in the thrilling opening number “Tradition” performed with great animation and confidence. “To Life” (“L’Chaim”) was energetic and got the audience going, but the choreography was a bit awkward. Nonetheless, there are some impressive attempts at acrobatics and Russian dancing, and the gorgeous harmony produced by the ensemble chorus can give you goosebumps. The wedding scene brings us “Sunrise, Sunset”, a wistful, beautiful and touching ballad, and features inspired Hebrew frolics. “Matchmaker”, performed by the three oldest daughters – Tzeitel (Jennifer Mitchell), Hodel (Molly Mahoney) and Chava (Erin Ashe) is full of charm and beautifully sung by all three. Their romantic counterparts Motel (Michael Desnoyers), Perchick (Anthony Guzman) and Fyedka (Samuel Rabinowitz) all deliver solid performances, although the ladies have the vocal edge.
John Shillington’s simple, efficient direction includes creative touches like frequent use of frozen tableaus, very effective and well done. There’s lots of movement on the small stage, but during some of the large ensemble numbers when the entire cast of 38 is on board, it seems a bit over-crowded and clumsy. The small orchestra at times was off-key, an unfortunate but frequent occurrence at North Bay shows.
Cinnabar’s engaging production to kick off its 42nd season resonates with universal truth, reminding us that we are all fiddlers, trying our best to prevail through jubilation and heartbreak. “Fiddler on the Roof” is entertaining theatre for the whole family and is worth checking out. Shows are selling out each weekend, and even though they have added performances, it must close on September 28th. If you want to go, you should get your tickets without delay.
When: Now through September 28, 2014
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
2p.m. Thursday, September 25
Tickets: $25 to $35
Location: Cinnabar Theater
3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma CA