For many Jewish fans, “Fiddler On the Roof” has long been (to borrow a phrase) chicken soup for the soul.
But this longstanding Broadway musical, based on stories about a weary Jewish dairyman and his family, and written by the great Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, is a global favorite. And its attraction goes beyond ancestry and nostalgia.
Village Theatre’s splendid new mounting of “Fiddler on the Roof” is more intimate than recent touring versions. And it allows you to directly appreciate this work of universal resonance and popularity.
There is the marvelous Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock score, rife with klezmer and Russian folk music gestures, and laced with insightful and deliciously humorous lyrics. It is performed beautifully here by the actor-singers and by the pit orchestra (and strolling musicians) under Bruce Monroe’s baton.
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The memorable characters begin with the downtrodden but soulful and wry dairyman Tevye, robustly played and sung by Eric Polani Jensen, in the best performance I’ve seen this hearty Village regular give. He imbues Tevye with tragicomic richness, and his renditions of signature tunes like “If I Were a Rich Man” are a delight.
Everyone is well-cast here — Tevye’s bossy, loving wife Golde (Bobbi Kotula), their five daughters (including Jennifer Weingarten, Emily Cawley and Mara Solar as the three they hope will soon marry prosperous men) and the girls’ unsuitable suitors, particularly Joshua Carter and Aaron C. Finley.
In “Fiddler,” as in Anton Chekhov plays, no one is all good or bad — even the local Russian sheriff, to whom Tevye must grovel, has his reasons. And there are few throwaway parts — certainly not the overbearing Yente (the shtetl matchmaker, played with gusto by Laura Kenny), the droll residing rabbi (a deft turn by Eric Ray Anderson) and a butcher widower, eager to wed one of Tevye’s daughters.
Most mountings of “Fiddler” are indebted to its original 1964 staging by choreographer-director Jerome Robbins, and this one is no exception. But director David Ira Goldstein and choreographer Kathryn Van Meter add their own nuances to the familiar scenes of revelry and despair. And if the sets are, as in the original, much inspired by Marc Chagall’s whimsical paintings of his own shtetl, designer Bill Forrester’s view of Anatevka and the changing of its seasons often feels fresh.
At the heart of this musical, however, is the artful book by Joseph Stein, and the brilliance of Aleichem. In his Tevye stories and other works, the writer captured for generations the bitter and sweet of a close-knit community steeped in religious and social tradition, and suddenly forced by bigotry, war and the pressures of modernity to scatter, and surrender what has kept their culture together for centuries.
That wrenching is, alas, an experience shared by many other cultures. But so are the dreamy hopes of young girls (“Matchmaker, Matchmaker”), the thrill of love (“Wonder of Wonders”), the joy and tears of a wedding (“Sunrise, Sunset”), and pain of separation (“Far From the Home I Love”), and the resilient endurance of the common man, and a people.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org