FIDDLER ON THE ROOF


No sequins. No glitz. No feathers. No frills. Nothing but glorious songs and dances and a heartstrings-tugging story to transport you back in time and space to a Jewish shtetl in early 20th Century Tsarist Russia. This is Fiddler On The Roof, the Broadway classic whose (almost) 50th Anniversary production makes for a memorable PCPA Theaterfest summer season opener under Roger DeLaurier’s assured direction.

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Erik Stein is Sholem Aleichem’s philosophical Jewish milkman Tevye, a role originated on Broadway by the inimitable Zero Mostel and bought to towering life on the Solvang Festival Theater stage by the six-and-a-half-foot PCPA mainstay in a performance that more than matches his 2009 Scenie-winning Best Actor turn as Les Misérables’ Inspector Javert.

Joseph Stein’s book about a community of Jews living in the village of Anatevka in the first decade of the 20th 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. As for Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s songs—“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “If I Were A Rich Man,” “To Life,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and “Do You Love Me?” are just five of them—they remain every bit as splendid as they were when Broadway audiences first heard them on September 22, 1964.

fiddler18a Stein does richly-layered work as the sometimes cantankerous father of five young daughters who try his patience on a daily basis, a decent man whose belief in Jewish traditions is often put to the test by the changing world around him. A head or more taller than the tallest of his castmates, Stein’s stature makes Tevye an imposing, at times intimidating figure, and when middle daughter Chava crosses the line by marrying outside her religion, Stein’s rage is palpable … and devastating. Still, Stein shines every bit as brightly in Tevye’s lighter moments, whether wistfully imagining life as a rich man, or gleefully explaining the “dream” that convinces him to let his older daughter marry a lowly tailor, or chatting with God about this, that, or the other.

fiddler20a Far more than simply a one-man show, PCPA’s Fiddler On The Roof features a stellar supporting cast led by the always delightful Kitty Balay as a cuddly yet acerbic Golde, whose “Do You Love Me?” duet with Stein is as heart-warming as it is amusing.

fiddler19a Karin Hendricks, Krysta Michelle Smith, and Jess Chanliau make strong impressions as Tevye’s three most marriageable daughters. PCPA treasure Hendricks is not only the most incandescent Tzeitel I’ve seen, her sparkling vocals, spot-on impression of matchmaker Yente, and authentic dramatic chops add up to yet another Hendricks performance gem. (I defy anyone’s eyes to remain dry when Tzeitel begs Tevye to let her marry the man she loves.) As Hodel, a marvelous Smith does full justice to the heartbreaking “Far From The Home I Love,” and Chanliau is equally memorable as Chava, particularly when facing the icy cold rejection of a hitherto warm and loving Tevye.

The always excellent Michael Jenkinson gives tailor Motel an endearing stammer in stress situations, has great rapport with longtime fellow PCPAer Hendricks, and sings a gloriously lilting “Miracle Of Miracles.” George Walker gives a charismatic performance as young revolutionary Perchik, though whoever decided to cut the Perchik/Hodel duet “Now I Have Everything” deserves one of Tevye’s fiercest tongue lashings. Tony Kupsick is a charmer as Chava’s Russian sweetheart Fyedka (who never did get his chance to vocalize, even in the Broadway original).

Elizabeth Stuart does scene-stealing double duty as matchmaker Yente and an even-taller-than-Tevye Fruma-Sarah in Fiddler’s show-stopping “The Dream,” which has Fruma-Sarah returning from the dead to terrify Golde and delight the Solvang Festival Theater audience. Billy Breed’s crabby butcher Lazar Wolf is another terrific performance by the PCPA staple.

There’s not a weak link in the entire Fiddler On The Roof cast, completed by Julia Seibert and Lucy Genge (youngest daughters Shprintze and Bielke), Stephanie Bull (Shaindel), Leo Cortez (Mordcha), Peter S. Hadres (Rabbi), Cameron Parker (Mendel), Toby Tropper (Avram), Chris Carter (Nachum), Paul Henry (Yussel), Joseph Cannon (Constable), Steven Jasso (Sasha and Russian Dancer), Britney Simpson (Grandma Tzeitel and Mother), Rose Blackford), Jacqueline Hildebrand), and Katie Wackowski (Mothers), Amanda Farbstein (Daughter), Kimii White (Young Daughter), Edgar Lopez (Russian), Cameron Rose (Son and Yente Boy), Christopher Jensen (Son), Thom(Appel (Yente Boy), and a pair of standout cameos, Lucas Blair showing off some gorgeous pipes as Russian Soloist and violinist Patrick Anderson doing some tuneful Fiddler fiddling.

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Jenkinson doubles as choreographer, bringing his own distinctive touch to dance sequences originally created by the ground-breaking Jerome Robbins. These include the now iconic “Tradition” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “To Life,” and most memorably, “Wedding Dance,” featuring the legendary how-do-they-keep-those-bottles-on-their-hats “Bottle Dance,” performed here to precision perfection by Anderson, Blair, Jasso, Kupsick, and Lopez.

The entire cast sound marvelous under Callum Morris’s tiptop musical direction, sound designer Elisabeth Rebel and the Solvang Festival Theater’s sound system making instrumental tracks, recorded specifically for this production by an eleven-piece orchestra, sound remarkably live.

fiddler14a Scenic designer DeAnne Kennedy has created a set which takes us on a tour of Anatevka via various configurations of modular units. Frederick P. Deeben’s costumes have just the right early 20th Century Russian-Jewish look. Jennifer ‘Z’ Zornow’s striking lighting design gets high marks as well. Heather Patterson is stage manager.

At only fifteen months short of fifty years of age, Fiddler On The Roof remains one of the great ones, a musical filled with laughter and tears, song and dance, and real substance. As directed by DeLaurier and performed by a superb cast headed by the brilliant Stein, it makes for a thoroughly wonderful first production in a summer of of PCPA Theaterfest shows under the Solvang sky.

Solvang Festival Theater, 420 2nd Street, Solvang.
www.pcpa.org

–Steven Stanley
June 15, 2013
Photos: Luis Escobar Reflections Photography Studio

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