BWW Reviews: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Stratford Festival is an Ode 'To Life'

By: Jul. 24, 2013

Stratford Festival's production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF leaves very few human emotions un-experienced by its characters and the audience alike. It explores: human values, happiness in everyday life, newfound love, fear of changes-big and small, the agony and frustration that comes from ignorance and discrimination, and the internal conflict of trying to rectify what you believe with what that means for those you love. This musical is about tradition, joy, heartache, change, faith, family, and most of all...LIFE. FIDDLER is a beloved classic, and to say Director/Choreographer, Donna Feore's production does it justice, is an understatement. First class acting, singing, and dancing; beautiful music; clever set design, and...did I say DANCING? This timeless musical is sure to dazzle audiences of all ages.

FIDDLER is the story of a Jewish community in 1905 Tsarist Russia, trying to hold on to a way of life, and the traditions that they feel maintain it. It is a story about family. Specifically, it is about the family of Tevye the milkman portrayed by the captivating Scott Wentworth. Tevye is a poor, hardworking man of faith, who believes that tradition is the foundation of his community, but acknowledges in different stages throughout the musical that one cannot completely stop the world from changing.

Mr. Wentworth gives a heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking performance as the stubborn, but always well-meaning milkman. Its impossible to have a good production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF without a good Tevye...luckily, this Tevye is excellent!

Part of the reason why FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is so timeless, is that although it is set in a specific time and place, and about a specific group of people; it is relatable to all who experience it because at its core, it is about the struggles that any family and community can and do face everyday. People of vastly different faiths and backgrounds are able to see themselves in these characters, and understand their struggle.

FIDDLER is not just about hardship and struggle; however. It is also full of joy and humour. A perfect example is Mr. Wentworth's rendition of IF I WERE A RICH MAN which is sure to put a smile on your face. All of the music, whether joyful or meloncholic is rich and beautiful when played by the musicians assembled by music director, Shelley Hanson.

Although FIDDLER is very much Tevye's story (it is based on the book TEVYE AND HIS DAUGHTERS by Sholem Aleichem), many other characters are very important, and add to the heart of the show. In the production that this writer reviewed, Barbara Fulton was on as Tevye's wife Golde-a role typically played by Kate Hennig. Ms. Fulton's stubborn, opinionated, and hardworking Golde went toe to toe with her equally stubborn, opinionated and hardworking husband, leading to some entertaining and tender moments between the two.

As Tevye's three oldest daughters-each falling in love with men who increasingly challenge Tevye's belief system; Jennifer Stewart, Jacquelyn French, and Keely Hutton all shine-as do their respective suitors: Andre Morin, Mike Nadajewski, and Paul Nolan.

As the Fiddler, Anna Atkinson plays beautifully, and has an excellent playful chemistry with Mr. Wentworth when they interact throughout the show.

Gabrielle Jones gets some of the biggest laughs as Yente the matchmaker. The always-excellent Steve Ross also gets some hearty laughs as the unlucky-in-love Lazar Wolf; and the pairing of Sam Moses as the loveable Rabbi and Robert Markus as his traditionalist son, Mendel, is delightful as well.

The only thing recognizable about Jewelle Blackman as Fruma-Sarah (Lazar Wolf's deceased-wife-come-back-from-the-grave-in-a-fabricated-dream) is her powerhouse vocal performance. Wearing a terrifying mask, long nails, and flying above the stage as she belts out her gloriously disturbing solo...she is a showstopper for certain! This is a scene the audience will not soon forget!

One of the central conflicts in FIDDLER, is the increasing amount of power and authority that the Constable (BRAD RUDY) and his Russian troops have in the village of Anatevka, and what this means for Tevye and his friends. The interactions between the Jewish community and the Russian soldiers are sometimes lighthearted and fun-like with the musical number TO LIFE when everyone drinks, dances, and celebrates together. The image of these two drastically different groups of people coming together in song and dance is a powerful one. Unfortunately, it does not last in Anatevka. A special mention must go to Lee Siegel who, as one of the Russians, holds a note longer than what was previously thought to be humanly possible!

The dancing in this production of FIDDLER is spectacular. Matt Alfano, Gabriel Antonacci, Julius Sermonia, Stephen Cota, Galen Johnson, and Matt Armet seem to never stop moving. They jump and fly into different stratospheres as they dance throughout the show. Antonacci, Sermonia, Cota, and Alfano have the audience in the palms of their hands during the BOTTLE DANCE sequence. Everyone in the audience seemed to be holding their breath as they looked on in astonishment at the skill of these gentlemen.

The entire cast excels in this moving production, leaving not a dry eye in the room. They portray the resilience and spirit in a community challenged by a changing world, and by what was a devastating time in history for Jewish people. The cast brings these people to life and shares with the audience both the good and bad that can be found within the spectrum of the human condition. It is no secret that artists in the theatre often come together to form a close, safe, family-like community. It appears evident that these performers have built that both in reality, and in this world they have created for this production. As sad as it is when the villagers are forced to leave their home, and part from each other, it is apparent to the audience that there are no geographical limits to a community. The people of Anatevka will remain a community and family no matter where they go, and the messages of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF such as having a love of life, a commitment to family, and pride and acceptance of one's community will resonate with the audience long after the final bow.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is currently on stage at Stratford Festival's Festival Theatre until October 20th, 2013.

Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

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