Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in 1900s Russia, Fiddler on the Roof focuses on the poor Jewish dairyman Tevye, his wife Golde, their five daughters, and the large group of townspeople who inhabit their village of Anatevka. They attempt to hold onto their religious customs and traditions against changing times as they face anti-Semitism and the potential expulsion from their homes by the Russians. It is a serious show, full of many somber and emotionally deep subjects. Yet bookwriter Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick crafted a show, based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, with realistic characters and situations that also incorporates many moments of humor and heart that help balance out the more serious scenes and songs.
David Ira Goldstein's direction is spotless and his talented cast achieve rich portrayals with every line of dialogue and lyric well thought out, realistic, and effectively delivered. Eric Polani Jensen and Anne Allgood are simply exceptional as Tevye and his wife Golde. Their portrayals are full of warmth and heart and they exhibit a feistiness with each other that makes sense for a couple who have been together for twenty-five years yet were strangers on their wedding day. I've seen over a dozen productions of this show and Jensen is on par with Topol, Harvey Fierstein and Alfred Molina, all of whom I saw either on the road or on Broadway.
The rest of the cast is very strong, with Jennifer Wingerter, Taylor Pearlstein, and Krista Curry all very good as Tevye and Golde's three eldest daughters, and Kenny Metzger, Patrick Shelton and Kevin Milnes as their three very different suitors. All six have strong voices that excel on their songs. The part of the young Russian man Fyedka is often played more as a caricature, but Milnes finds a way to present him as an engaging three-dimensional person. As the crowd pleasing character Yente, the matchmaker, Kate Jaeger delivers every line so it gets a big laugh.
William Forrester's set design is sensational, with some large movable set pieces and large colorful drops that cover 2/3 of the back wall and the side scrims based on Marc Chagall images to portray the Russian villagethe original Broadway production poster design and sets were also based on Chagall's images. A series of trees works well to show the changing seasons of the story. The second half of the show turns more dark and serious; Forrester's sets and the exquisite lighting design from Michael Gilliam match the bleakness with grey wooden walls and shadows of color and light, though there are a few pops of color in the darkness that, I assume, show the possible happiness in the characters' futures. The costumes by Cynthia Savage are equally good, with rich patterns and fabrics that accurately portray the period and characters. Choreographer Kathryn Van Meter follows the original classic Jerome Robbins choreography fairly closely yet manages to make it seem fresh and original with some effective moves of her own.
Fiddler on the Roof is an exceptionally powerful piece of musical theatre with a superb book and score that portray the story of a simple group of people who face a changing world. With an exceptional cast and solid direction, Arizona Theatre Company's production breaths a huge amount of heart and life into this fifty-year-old classic and makes it seem as fresh and powerful as ever.
Fiddler on the Roof at Arizona Theatre Company through January 29th, 2017, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling 602-2566995.
Director: David Ira Goldstein
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.