Chet Greason, Gazette Staff
You could say it’s hard to do Fiddler on the Roof unsuccessfully. There’s no other musical so essentially joyous and celebratory while, at the same time, so heart-wrenching.
The music, the scripted jokes, the powerful themes ... they’re all right there on the page. Anything done well on top of that essential play is a bonus, and that’s what we have with the Stratford Festival’s 2013 incarnation: a production chock full of bonuses.
First and foremost would be Scott Wentworth’s performance as Tevye, an overworked family man who does not let his poverty rob him of his sense of humour and joy of life. Wentworth’s Tevye is equal parts gruff and endearing, commanding and sweet; the kind of father figure you would want to work hard at garnering his respect.
Physically, Wentworth appears to become more hunched, more tired as the play goes on. His daughters test him, breaking from his valued tradition, but it is the violence forced upon his community by the Tsarist Russian government and his own casting out of his third daughter Chava that bends Tevye’s back and slow his steps.
By the time the Jewish community of the village of Anatevka is forced out, Tevye is a very different man than the one we saw in the opening number, and rightly so. The weight of his difficult life, spent finding balance, is beginning to take its toll.
As important as Tevye’s role is as the axle upon which the entire show spins, no production of Fiddler would be complete without a well-cast village to back him up. The villagers, from the rabbi (Sam Moses), to the matchmaker (Gabrielle Jones), to the innkeeper (Jeremy Kushnier), help to create a very real, tight-knit community.
Fiddler is driven by the relationships of the characters – fathers and daughters, daughters and suitors, and the core family with the village at large. Each of these relationships are developed nicely by the talented cast.
Director and choreographer Donna Feore and musical director Shelley Hanson have done an excellent job of balancing Fiddler’s energy, blowing the audience away with high-kicking numbers like the Wedding Dance and To Life (the audience especially raved for tenor Lee Siegal and his impressive lungs), while breaking our hearts with sorrowful moments in Far From the Home I Love and Anatevka.
The directors fully understand the percussive potential of snapping fingers and stomping feet, and have their cast utilizing these whenever possible, moving the audience to snap and clap along. One audience member, sitting close by this reviewer, even caught himself singing along to If I Were a Rich Man at one point, and, really, who could blame him?
The set was largely minimalist, at least compared to the somewhat psychedelic set of the Festival’s 2000 production of Fiddler. The stage is strewn with small lit houses, reminding us that the village itself is central to the story at hand. The abstract animal and devil figures floating above the stage were, at first, confusing, until reading in the program that the set, houses and devils alike, is meant to evoke the paintings of artist Marc Chagall, who painted The Fiddler, the artwork which lent Fiddler on the Roof its name.
Fiddler will move you. The music, heavy on the minor keys and capable of making the clarinet cool again, will have your feet stomping; and the heartbreak will leave you deeply affected. A wonderful experience.