Clark Miller

Performing Arts Reviews

Fiddler On The Roof

Fiddler Soars in Novato

Drove down to Novato for Novato Theater Company’s opening of Fiddler on the Roof last night. Thirty miles is nothing for live theater. Think of it as a pilgrimage to the oracle of art. Saw a spirited community-theater production that captured the raw vitality of a Jewish village in 1905 Russia. Director Pat Nims, choreographer Kate Kenyon and music director Carl Oser delivered a key element for Fiddler, a sense of a community.

The Czar is scapegoating the Jews to try to stave off the coming revolution, only twelve years away. He’s going to give us a new word, pogrom, meaning “destroy, wreak havoc, demolish violently.” It is an orchestrated assault on an ethnic minority. Future dictators of the world will thank him for this useful tool.

Fiddler is based on short stories of Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916), stories first published in 1894. He was a leading Russian-Yiddish author and playwright who witnessed the pogroms before moving to the United States.

Our protagonist, Tevye, has another revolution coming his way: three daughters bucking the marriage system. Matchmaker out, free will in. How much can a man bear? Plus his horse is lame. Oy vey, the indignity.

We love our Tevye. Any actor-singer who dares to replicate him had better have the key thing, charm. Michael Walraven has it. He laughs and cries, rages and wilts, talks to God on familiar terms. He endures, a model of mental health in a mad world.

Like Fiddler itself. Fifty years old. Monster-classic musical. First in history to pass 3,000 performances. Nominated for ten Tonys, won nine, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography. Spawned four Broadway revivals and a film adaptation. Takes balls for a little company to stage Fiddler.

Why the enduring appeal? Mainly, Jerry Bock’s music. You want to sing along with every number. They’re simply wonderful. The lyrics by Sheldon Harnick are equally great.

Highlights

Needless to say, this isn’t Broadway (and you’re not paying $125 for your seat). The local talent pool isn’t very deep, but how can it be, given this arts-averse educational system of ours? (Funny how our culture is addicted to TV and movies but refuses to foster a farm system of talent; we should learn from professional baseball.)

Highlights include:

The three daughters. Bouket Fingerhut as Tzeitel, Gena Madory as Hodel (gorgeous voice on “Far From the Home I Love”), and Bessie Zolno as Chava. All excellent. I especially liked Zolno, that rare performer who can act, sing and dance (“triple threat”), but of course I’m a sucker for the scene where Tevye rejects Chava, his little bird; kills me every time.

James Gregory’s fine tenor does justice to “Miracle of Miracles,” reminding us men once again that there is a proper way to respond when she says yes.

Ben Knoll as Perchik. Strong actor. I always wonder if Perchik becomes a Bolshevik. Perchik’s solo, “Now I Have Everything,” is to my ear the toughest song in the show. Perchik is the outsider, so his tune has a different sound. Knoll nails it.

Paula Gianetti’s Golde steps up nicely for “Do You Love Me?” We all got teary. Amy Dietz’s Yente and Patrick Barr’s Lazar Wolf are both strong performances.

The Fiddler, Ashley Kimball. Brilliant. The director wisely integrates her into the story, giving her lots of stage time, which she fully exploits.

Through April 26.