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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Fiddler on the Roof
Goodspeed Musicals

Also see Fred's review of Breaking the Code and Interview with John Cariani and Julianne Boyd of Dancing Lessons


The Cast
Presenting Fiddler on the Roof for the first time, Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut, benefits from director Rob Ruggiero's theme which embraces relationships in family and the context of the village. The production, which fills the hall with deep warmth and a fair measure of humor, runs through September 12th. It demonstrates how the people of tiny Anatevka, in Eastern Europe, grow closer as they struggle for existence. Ruggiero's take is a compassionate one.

Set in 1905, a time which anticipates Russia exercising might, based upon stories of Sholem Aleichem (courtesy Arnold Perl), Fiddler centers around the plight of a loving milkman, Tevye (Adam Heller), and his family. Stars such as Herschel Bernardi and Topol (both of whom I saw in the role) and Zero Mostel have turned in signature performances in the lead. Heller is affecting, enduring and sympathetic, all within the perspective of Tevye's place as father, husband, and friend. His performance is brilliant, as he manages to stay front and center as he pulls about his cart but not dominate the stage.

Michael Schweikardt, designing, provides a backdrop of birch trees—and that touch is most fitting. A sense of occasion is supplied by wooden exteriors of dwellings.

Tevye realizes that he should honor God's wishes and it is necessary to become philosophical as he balances wisdom with religious obligation when his daughters ask for his blessing. The older three will soon marry. Tzeitel (Barrie Kreinik) was arranged to partner with Lazar (John Payonk) but instead falls for Motel the tailor (David Perlman). The most imaginative (feigned) dream/nightmare sequences feature both Lazar's first wife, Fruma-Sarah (Joy Hermalyn), and Golde's Grandma Tzeitel (Cheryl Stern). To Tevye's enormous relief, his wife Golde (Lori Wilner) sees that the marriage of Tzeitel to Lazar is not the best idea.

By now, we have already heard classic tunes such as "Tradition," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "If I Were a Rich Man." Joseph Stein wrote the musical's book while Jerry Bock provided music and Sheldon Harnick the legendary lyrics. Jerome Robbins choreographed the original production and, at Goodspeed, Parker Esse replicates movement and, it seems, added some innovations which are delectable.

Tzeitel, as indicated, refuses to wed wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf, and instead chooses poor, humble, honest Motel. The second daughter, Hodel (Elizabeth DeRosa), is taken with Marxist-idealist Perchik (Abdiel Vivancos) even as Tevye has a difficult time coming to terms with the engagement. Still, as father, he recognizes his daughter's affection and love for the young man. Later, however, third daughter Chava (Jen Brissman) pleads with her father to approve of her impending marriage to Fyedka (Timothy Hassler), who is Russian and not Jewish. Tevye attempts to rationalize but cannot and finally will ignore the couple as they elope. There is some resolution at the very end of the show.

Toward the conclusion of the first act, the entire company sings "Sunrise, Sunset" and, just before the final scene of act two, the villagers mix voices on "Anatevka." These and virtually every other song bring a fond memory for those familiar with one or another version of Fiddler on the Roof.

Heller, throughout, is heartfelt with his performance as Tevye. Perhaps, quiet moments, such as "Monologue" and "Do You Love Me?" (the duet with Golde), and the comic reverie of "If I Were a Rich Man" bestow his most distinctive touches. His Tevye is everything humane and his disposition is sweet.

Ruggiero coaxes a number of sensitive, convincing performances. The daughters (actors Kreinik, DeRosa, and Brissman) are impressive, as is Perlman as Motel. Each actor stays true to and not above character in Goodspeed's Fiddler. The comedy inherent within this piece is precious and ageless. To the director's credit, the performers allow it to evolve naturally.

Fiddler on the Roof continues at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut through September 12th, 2014. For tickets, visit goodspeed.org or call (860) 873-8668.


Photo: Diane Sobolewski


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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