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BWW Reviews: Impressive FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Stages St. Louis

It's just a fact that Stages St. Louis is a very special theatre company that always brings a sense of joy and enthusiasm to the shows they stage year end and year out. Fiddler on the Roof, their current production (book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Beck), is another terrific example of their expertise in these endeavors. Lovingly crafted and performed with equal parts gusto and tenderness, this is a presentation that perfectly illustrates the art of musical theatre, while also touching the heart and soul of those who view it.

Set during a period of great turmoil just prior to the Russian revolution (1905), Fiddler on the Roof is a celebration of life in a time of distinct uncertainty. Beleaguered milkman Tevye is continually philosophizing and conversing with God in order to find a way out of his impoverished existence. With change looming on the horizon, he faces the prospect of relocation and religious persecution. But, Tevye is more concerned with tradition than politics, and as the story unfolds, he finds his beliefs taxed to their very limits.

Bruce Sabath makes for a wonderful Tevye. His voice clearly suits the material, and his investment in the role lends the part both depth and power, leavened with a fine sense of the humor and unshakeable faith. His strong work makes the character the center of attention he's supposed to be, and his renditions of "Tradition", "If I Were A Rich Man" and "Do You Love Me" are especially well done. He's well matched with Kari Ely, who contributes an exceptional performance as his long suffering wife, Golde. Stephanie Lynne Mason is very good as eldest daughter Tzeitel, promised to Lazar Wolf (Christopher Limber) by her father and the matchmaker, but winding up with her childhood sweetheart, Motel, who's sensitively portrayed by Nick Orfanella. Together, they share a particularly sweet moment with "Miracle of Miracles."

The next daughter up for contention is Hodel, well played by Julie Hanson who falls in love with Perchik (Jason Michael Evans), a schoolteacher that Tevye and his family take in. Hanson shines with the emotional tune, "Far From the Home I Love" as she prepares to follow her incarcerated suitor to Siberia. Carissa Massaro displays the strength of her convictions as the forthright Chava, who falls from grace when she marries outside her faith. Together, the daughters perform a delightful version of "Matchmaker", as they sing about the issues and problems brought on by arranged marriages. Rachel Coloff also adds considerably to the proceedings as Yente, the matchmaker.

Director Michael Hamilton has, once again, reinvigorated a classic musical that demands your time and attention. Gary John LaRosa neatly recreates the original choreography (Jerome Robbins), and it's tightly performed and executed, while Lisa Campbell Albert's musical direction never hits a wrong note. James Wolk's scenic design captures the proper atmosphere and period, and so do Lou Bird's costume designs. Matthew McCarthy's lighting also aids greatly in creating the necessary mood and focus for each scene.

This completely engaging and exuberant production of Fiddler on the Roof by Stages St. Louis continues through October 5, 2014 at the Robert G. Reim Auditorium in Kirkwood, MO. Don't miss it!

Photo credit: Peter Wochniak

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