Fiddler on the Roof given an unique outing by Berkeley Playhouse

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF: Musical Drama based on Shalem Aleichem’s stories. Book by Joseph Stein. Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Directed by Jon Tracy. Choreographed by Matthew McCoy. Musical Direction by Rachel Robinson. Berekeley Playhouse, Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA. (510) 845-8542 x351 or visit www.berkeleyplayhouse.org.       June 25 – August 2, 2015

Fiddler on the Roof given an unique outing by Berkeley Playhouse Rating: ★★★☆☆

It has been over 50 years since Fiddler on the Roof made its debut on Broadway running for a record of over 3000 performances. There have been four Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation. Since its release for public performance it has become a popular musical being performed by High Schools, community theaters and professional groups. It has played in many venues in the Bay area with four or more National Tours making successful stops in San Francisco. The latest showing is by the ambitious Berkeley Playhouse in the comfortable 350 seat Historic Julie Morgan Theater.

This play with the major character Tevye who talks to God (not a very good listener) is populated with believable characters brought to life with an extremely competent cast (with minor caveats) under the trademark direction of Bay Area icon Jon Tracy. It is the most innovative, physical production of Fiddler seen to date by this reviewer. The masterful score is brought to life by a seven piece band with the marvelous, unseen, Christina Owens doing the honors on the violin.

The story is well known with universal appeal even though the time is pre-revolution Russia and the place is Anatevka a poor rural Jewish town steeped in “Tradition” told by Tevye (Michael RJ Campbell) and the Company in the prolog. The always inventive director Tracy has elected to have  ALL of the Company sitting on the periphery of center stage for the entire performance. More about that later.

Tevye and wife Golde (Sarah Mitchell) have five daughters, three of marriageable ages who break with tradition to marry for love rather than to those “traditionally” chosen by the father.  The oldest Tzeitel (Abbey Lee) wishes to marry the poor tailor Motel (Kirk Johnson) rather than the butcher Lazar Wolf  (Berwick Haynes) a rich old widower.  Free spirited Hodel (Jade Shojee) falls in love with revolutionist Perchik (Joel Roster)  and Chava (Grace Ng) marries the Christian Fyedka (Luke Myers). Woven into this break with tradition is the concept of family being challenged by social values intertwined with social upheaval.

The songs are some of the finest written including “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, “If I Were a Rich Man”, “To Life”, “Miracle of Miracles”  and the plaintive “Sunrise, Sunset.”

 Michael RJ Campbell earns most of accolades as the poor dairy farmer Tevye but his comic timing misses a beat. This is most noticeable in the scene about selling the cow with Lazar Wolf (Berwick Haynes). Sarah Mitchell handles the role of a typical Jewish mother with restraint and is marvelous in the “Do You Love Me?” duet with Campbell. Abbey Lee, Grace Ng and Jade Shojaee are charming as Tevye’s daughters and have a show stopper  with the “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” number.

Director Tracy who cut his teeth as a director in 2007 with the SF Playhouse production of First Person Shooter is much in demand in the Bay Area and has become known for the physicality and uniqueness of style. It is worth seeing this excellent production of Fiddler to catch up on his progression.

There is no “roof” for the Fiddler to mount but rather a wooden ramp placed on a diagonal on the rear wall created by floor to ceiling aged wooden planks with gaps between them. This gives Tracy the entire width of the stage to move his cast and to bring his characters and ensemble from the wings producing tableaus that burst into action. To indicate the passage of time, both weekdays and years are unobtrusively projected on the planks.

Added to this unique staging are the authentic costumes created by Liz Martin and spirited choreography by Matthew McCoy although there is too much stomping that becomes distracting.

 Recommendation: A should see production but a bit long at two hours and 50 minutes with intermission.

CAST: Tevye, Michael RJ Campbell; Golde, Sarah Mitchell; Tzeitel , Abbey Lee; Hodel, Jade Shojaee; Chava, Grace Ng; Lazar Wolf, Berwick Haynes; Yente, Jennie Brick; Motel, Kirk Johnson; Perchik, Joel Roster; Fyedka, Luke Myers; Avram, Tom Curtin; Constable, Johnny Debernard; Rabbi, John Hale; Sasha, Zach Hansen; Shaindel, Bonnie Lafer; Boris, Charles Peoples Iii; Mordcha, Jeanine Perasso; Nachum, Billy Raphael; Mendel, Salim Razawi; Yussel, Victoria Siegel. Ensemble: Bennie Brown, Sabrina Fiora, Andrew Humann, Jude Mcentee, Benjamin Nguyen, Abby Peterson, Lonnie Sears, Jessica Rose Slaght, Abe Soane, Shelby Stewart, Madeleine Wack,  Denise “Dee” Wagner.

CREATIVE TEAM:  Director JonTracy; Musical Direction by Rachel Robinson ; Scenic Design by Catalina Niño; Lighting Design by Drew Kaufman; Costume Design by Liz Martin; Sound Design by Taylor Gonzalez; Prop Design by Devon LaBelle.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com

 

Tevye (Michael RJ Campbell – Member Actors’ Equity) dances with his daughter Chava (Grace Ng) at “The Wedding”, in Berkeley Playhouse’s production of Fiddler on the Roof directed by Jon Tracy. Performed at the Julia Morgan Theater, June 25 – August 2, 2015. Photo by Ben Krantz Studio.