Once again, I am reminded of why “Fiddler on the Roof” is one of the best musicals of all time, if not the best.
This exceptionally well-cast and well-directed version of “Fiddler” captures the show’s humor and its sense of place. It feels less like a “show,” and more like listening to one of Sholom Aleichem’s simple tales. Most of all, it captures the sadness and the bittersweet heartbreak that gives this musical its power.
The message of this show comes through with uncommon clarity: Life is sometimes hard, sometimes sad and sometimes unfair - but we drink to it. L’Chaim!
Director-choreographer Kathie Doyle-Lipe has done a remarkable job in casting. More than a half-dozen people seem to be born for their parts: Dennis Craig as Tevye, Jean Hardie as Golde, Nancy Sophia Emerson as Tzeitel, Heather Sharp as Hodel, Briane Jordan as Chava, Evelyn Renshaw as Yente and Scott Cooper as Perchik.
Yet this production shows a creative imagination that goes far beyond the performances. The set, by Nik Adams, includes murals of Anatevka’s huts that swept out to the sides of our vision, and vaulted up over the top of the proscenium. I felt as if I were enveloped in Anatevka’s world.
Also, decorated screens cover the wing spaces of the stage and even the little spotlight cubbyholes high above the audience. In one cubbyhole, the “fiddler” is seen in silhouette, sawing away on his klezmer air. Doyle-Lipe uses these spaces to maximum creative effect. The most powerful scene of the show was “Sabbath Prayer.” Tevye’s family lights candles and goes through its devotions, while meanwhile other families are seen, in silhouette, doing the same thing.
This same powerful device is later repeated when the villagers resignedly pack their belongings to escape the pogrom. It transforms the show from one about Tevye’s family, into one about the entire community.
Craig, bearded and stooped over his cart, is an outstanding Tevye. He has a better singing voice than most Tevyes, making “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man” into especially rich experiences. He is equally strong in characterization; he is particularly effective when he communes with God. In fact, he converts “Rich Man” into a remarkable, dramatic, one-sided dialogue with God.
A good Tevye is enough for a good “Fiddler,” but here he is surrounded by mature and polished performances. Hardie was a strong foil for Tevye as Golde. I thought Emerson’s portrayal of Tzeitel was one of the most subtle and moving I’ve seen. She gives her character dignity. Her “Matchmaker,” along with Sharp and Jordan, (who are both wonderful), is a delight.
Renshaw gets many well-earned laughs for her earnest and self-important Yente. Cooper was especially fine as the intense and driven Perchik.
The ensemble is well-drilled and professional, shining most brightly during the wedding scene and the ensuing bottle dance. The eight-person orchestra was first-rate.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is an exceptional musical because it not only entertains, but it manages to tell in microcosm the story of an entire people. Just by seeing this musical, we understand who the Russian Jews were, and why and how they came to immigrate to America.
We shouldn’t take this kind of artistic achievement for granted, nor should we take it for granted when a production communicates it so well. , DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Fiddler on the Roof,” Friday night, Spokane Civic Theatre, continues through Nov. 2, call 325-2507.