FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a musical by Joseph Stein with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on tales by Sholem Aleichem called ‘Tevye’s Daughters’. It was first published in Yiddish in 1884. On Broadway it was the first musical to exceed 3,000 performances and eight years after held the distinction of being the longest running musical. It made a star of Zero Mostel who, with his comedic timing, made the role of Tevye coveted by many actors…but oh, such big shoes to fill.
There are several musicals that are dear to my heart, having to do with personal memories as well as the fact that I have seen some splendid productions. FIDDLER is one such musical, and while my memories are of an elementary school production (grades 4-6) the relevance of the story, the enthusiasm of the children as well as the parents and teachers and the love of theater it inspired was magic to me. So, I approached my assignment of reviewing, hoping to have a pleasant evening, as the music is wonderful. Excitement began to build as I asked a ‘newbie’ co-worker to join me. Then I heard Kathy Junkins was directing the Newtown Arts Company production. I had worked with Ms. Junkins some 10 years ago on WEST SIDE STORY. Junkins’ skills as a director have grown and matured but her love of family, decency, kindness, tradition and of course, theater, have combined to bring to the stage a musical that encompasses these qualities. It was one of the most well done and enjoyable shows I have seen this year. It certainly is the best I have seen from Newtown Arts Company in ages.
The main focus is on Tevye, a poor dairyman, living in a Jewish shtetl in the midst of Imperialistic Russia in 1905, who struggles with threats to his ‘traditions’ from inside and outside his family. Not quite breaking the fourth wall he talks to God as he weighs the pros and cons of each of his decisions, as he is Papa, the decision maker, a tradition which is also being challenged. Tevye moves from here into the action on stage. It takes a skillful actor to play this role successfully and Sheldon Zeff does so with ease. He IS Tevye, flowing effortlessly through a range of complex emotions. His wry humor, delivered with precision and grace. Now …can he nail ‘If I were a Rich Man’? Whew, he sure does; it’s touching and powerful.
There’s a lot of talent on the stage. The characters seem real (and stay in character whenever they are in audiences view). They have depth. Morgaine Ford-Workman as Tzeitel, Rachel Goldman as Hodel and Cynthia Reynolds as Chava, Tevye’s three oldest daughters gave life to their roles. The appropriate costuming and long hair added to the effect. They treated us to some lovely vocals and animated dancing in ‘Matchmaker’. Jodie den Outer as Shprintze and Marissa Cohen as Bielke give charming performances. Allison DeKorte as Fruma Sarah is a real stand-out…wonderfully scary, her performance was very powerful. I loved the staging in this number.
Sylvia Cooper as Yente was an audience favorite with her quick paced delivery.
Patrick O’Leary as Lazar Wolf gives a good solid performance, as does Alex Salup as Perchick and Denise Monohan as Golde.
Motel is usually cast as a slight, almost scrawny individual. not so tonight. Steven Vettori has been cast and as he approaches Tevye in height but is supposed to be timid and afraid of Tevye ..well it could be tricky. Vettori handles the role extremely well, shy and deferential to Tevye at first then blooming into a Papa himself. And his voice is wonderful.
Matthew Synder as Fyedka shows off some pretty impressive dancing skills.
The ensemble. ..vibrant and enthusiastic.. not a bad one amongst them. Some stand-outs are as Michael Geary’s wonderful voice, the Bottle Dancers, Jill Laurinaitis, Arli Necowitz and Allison DeKorte. And where would we be without the Fiddler? Hannah Genn plays beautifully; a wonderful job.
The set designed by Ken Junkins is clever and attractive, (I loved the way the house opened in the center). Susan den Outer is the musical director; she is great on the keyboards and does a terrific job. Devon Bilyk does a wonderful job as choreographer. The dance numbers are terrific. Costume designer Lisa Reiser exhibits excellent work with her realistic costuming.
Fantastic job…kudos to everyone involved.
(One more little note..let Yussel know I want a hat, please.)
Unfortunately this show only runs for three more performances: Sunday, August 10th at 3pm, Tuesday August 12th and Wednesday August 13th at 7:30pm. Hurry and get your tickets!
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
by Joseph Stein with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Kathy Junkins
Musical Direction by Susan den Outer
Newtown Arts Company
120 North State Street
Newtown, PA 18940