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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Top-Drawer Fiddler Raises the Roof at Village Theatre

Also see David's review of My Fair Lady


Eric Polani Jensen
When you hire the best talent to do one of the greatest, most enduring musicals, odds are you'll have a great show, and such is the case with Village Theatre's robust and hearty Fiddler on the Roof. Director David Ira Goldstein has filled his large cast with several of the most formidable talents in the Seattle theatre world, and helped them inform their roles with such warmth, truth and humor, they rank among their best performances ever. Choreographer Kathryn Van Meter has created choreography that honors and suggests the brilliant Jerome Robbins originals, but freshens and enlivens it at the same time, and Bruce Monroe's musical direction of both the cast and the orchestra is an earful of bliss.

Easily one of the outstanding musicals of the 1960s, Fiddler on the Roof is blessed with Joseph Stein's literate and compelling book, Jerry Bock's tuneful music, and Sheldon Harnick's effortless lyrics, which retell Sholom Aleichem's tales of the hearty Russian Jewish milkman Tevye, his sharp-tongued yet adoring wife Golde, and their five daughters, focusing on the eldest three, each of whom marries in a way that goes against Jewish tradition. They live in the small Russian village of Anatevka, whose Jewish residents endure pogroms and ultimately evictions. Director Goldstein has seamlessly woven together a production that is both humorous and heartbreaking and the show clips along despite a nearly three hour running time.

As Tevye, the always capable Eric Polani Jensen is everything one could wish for in the role: warm, commanding, comical, endearing and musically strong, and using all of this in his big solo "If I Were a Rich Man." He is matched by Bobbi Kotula's grounded, loving portrait of Golde, and when the pair duet on the bittersweet "Do You Love Me?" it is a match made in musical comedy heaven. The dream team supporting cast includes Joshua Carter as an adorably nebbishy Motel the tailor, who weds Tevye's eldest daughter Tzeitel, and Matthew Posner, outstanding and unrecognizable as Lazar Wolf, the widower butcher who loses Tzeitel to Motel. Laura Kenny is such a force of nature as the indomitable and cranky Yente the matchmaker, one can't help wishing the part was bigger, and other key scene stealers are Allen Galli as Mordcha, and Eric Ray Anderson, hilarious as the very old Rabbi.

Tevye's eldest daughter Tzeitel is winningly enacted by Jennifer Weingarten, who sinks her comic chops into the role of her own Grandmother Tzeitel as well in the show-piece "Tevye's Dream," a sort of "Night of the Living Dead Jews" showpiece, perfectly realized in Kathryn Van Meter's staging. Emily Cawley does well as second daughter Hodel, particularly shining on her plaintive solo "Far From the Home I Love," and Aaron Finley as her beau Perchik does well by "Now I Have Everything." Third daughter Chava is winsomely enacted by Mara Solar, and Mike Spee makes more of the role of Fyedka her Christian husband than is often the case. Weingarten, Cawley and Solar also delight on one of the score's most famous numbers, "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," while the full company offer robust renditions of the ensemble numbers "Tradition," "Sabbath Prayer" and "Sunrise, Sunset."

Bill Forrester has crafted a particularly lovely and fluidly mobile scenic design, lighting design by Rick Paulsen is faultless, and Cynthia Savage costumes the company most attractively.

Don't let having seen Fiddler on the Roof before from catching this production, as it is among the finest interpretations of the show I have experienced.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through December 30, 2012, at Village Theatre in Issaquah, then moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center January 4-27, 2013. For tickets or information contact the Village box office in Issaquah at 425-392-2202 or in Everett at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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