Audience members become residents of the Russian village of Anatevka as Glendale Centre Theatre now presents the 1964 Broadway classic Fiddler On The Roof … in the round.

You’ve probably never seen a Fiddler as up-close-and-personal as the one now playing at the 65-year-old Glendale treasure, from its grand opening number, which has “the Papas,” “the Mamas,” “the sons,” and “the daughters” standing among audience Anatevkans as they sing in glorious harmonies about the town’s customs and rituals in “Tradition.”

Narrator for our visit to early 20th Century Tsarist Russia is Sholem Aleichem’s philosophical Jewish milkman Tevye, a role originated on Broadway by the inimitable Zero Mostel and brought to life with humor, warmth, and gusto on the GCT stage by a marvelous Richard Malmos.

 For a musical nearing its fiftieth birthday, Fiddler On The Roof is not even a smidgen dated, the only one of its fellow ’64 Tony-award nominees to have stood the test of time. (Does anyone even remember Golden Boy, Half A Sixpence, or Oh, What A Lovely War!?) Joseph Stein’s book about a community of Jews living in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in the first decade of the 19th Century resonates every bit as powerfully today as it did in the mid-‘60s, the dark cloud of anti-Semitism hanging over its characters’ otherwise fairly upbeat lives just as racism, homophobia, and religious prejudice do to our day. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s songs remain every bit as memorable as they were when Broadway audiences first heard them. “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” “If I Were A Rich Man,” “To Life,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and “Do You Love Me?” are just five of Bock and Harnick’s creations to have achieved classic status, and hearing them sung by a first-rate Glendale Centre Theatre cast is like meeting old, dear friends.

Director Martin Lang knows precisely how to stage Fiddler’s many memorable scenes so as to guarantee audience members on all four sides of the GCT arena stage an equally fine view of the proceedings, and the performances he has elicited from his non-Equity cast include standout work by both seasoned and youthful performers (though it is a puzzler why some Anatevka natives speak with an accent and others do not).

Under Steven Applegate’s assured musical direction, the resonant voices of both featured actors and ensemble members prove impressive, particularly in scenes which have small groups of them standing in the aisles within touching distance of the audience.

 Choreographer Orlando Alexander does not ask the cast to recreate Jerome Robbins’ intricate original footwork, but the moves they do execute they do quite niftily. Only the fabled “Bottle Dance” production number disappoints in its simplified, reduced-scaled form. On the other hand, the equally famed “The Dream” proves an imaginative delight, with Tevye and wife Golde (Lisa Dyson) haunted by a droll Christa Hamilton as Grandma Tzeitel, an appropriately spooky Lindsay Day as a gargantuan Fruma-Sarah, and an ensemble of black-robed, white-masked specters singing “Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov.” “Sabbath Prayer” too is a winner, with families of Anatevkans united in reverence around Sabbath candles so close to the audience you can smell their fragrance (the candles’ not the Anatevkans’). “To Life” (La Chaim!) is yet another showstopper.

Dyson plays Golde with a wry, folksy appeal, first-rate pipes, and some very funny Alice Kramden reactions whenever Malmos’s Tevye turns as belligerent as a Russian Jewish Ralph. The pair’s duet of “Do You Love Me?” is both funny and touching.

Nicole Ligerman, Heather Dudenbostel, and Daron O’Donnell sparkle as Tevye’s three oldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, and never more so than in the three-part “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” Ligerman scores dramatic points too for her emotional plea to Tevye to allow her marriage to the penniless tailor Motel Kamzoil (a winningly nerdy, vocally strong Michael Montiel). Dudenbostel vocalizes in such a lovely soprano in “Far From The Home I Love” and in her duet of “Now I Have Everything” (opposite a winning Paul Hovannes as student revolutionary Perchik) that one can forgive some somewhat age-inappropriate casting. O’Donnell makes for a lovely, poignant Chava opposite the operatic tenor of handsome Tyler Milliron as Fyedka, the Russian she falls in love with outside her faith. Chloe Broadway and Chelsea Rifkin are Tevye’s bubbly youngest daughters Shprintze and Bielke.

Supporting roles go to a talented bunch of Glendale Centre Theatre vets and newbies made up of Jacob Bonham, Osa Danam (Yente), Mario DiGregorio (Lazar Wolf), Laurie Fedor (Shaindel), Aaron Jacobs (Mendel), Danny Michaels (Rabbi), Art Miller (Avrahm), Nick Mizrahi (The Fiddler), Paul Reid, Michael Shaughnessy (Constable), David Michael Trevino (Mordcha), and Cedric Wright (Nachum).

Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes once again provide a bunch of terrific period outfits for a GCT show, albeit a bit scruffier than the ones seen in Phantom, 1776, or The Will Rogers Follies, to name just three fabulous Wood/Glendale Costumes creations. The production’s uncredited minimalist scenic design effectively suggests Fiddler’s various locales on GCT’s in-the-round stage. Top marks go to sound technician Nathan J. Milisavljevich. Caitlin Barbieri is stage manager.

With Fiddler On The Roof, Glendale Centre Theatre once again offers the kind of quality family entertainment it has been providing for the past sixty-five years. This in-the-round Fiddler offers newbies a fine introduction to the Broadway classic along with a satisfying return to Anatevka for those who may have visited before.

Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
March 8, 2012
Photos: Dennis Stover

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