Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock
Director: Shelley Hanson
Several weeks ago, in Texas, I found
myself deeply moved and inspired by a fine Marc Chagall exhibition
– Chagall: Beyond Color - at the Dallas
Museum of Art. The show included numerous versions of the Green
Violinist (1923-24), often fantastically perched on a roof of a Russian house.
This experience proved to be excellent preparation for a fine new production of
the musical Fiddler on the Roof at Stratford.
While the work is clearly based on stories by Sholem
Aleichem, Chagall’s unforgettable image is also at the heart of this
profoundly Jewish yet universal expression of human tragedy and comedy.
Director Donna Feore adhered closely to
the spirit and style of the original 1964 Jerome Robbins presentation in this production of Fiddler.
She made no attempt to “make it different” simply to be different. It appeared
to be enough for her to remain faithful to the original concept, and strive to
be worthy of it.
Indeed, there was an honesty about this
production that was most endearing. It started with Scott Wentworth’s superb
Tevye. Lesser artists risk giving us an impression instead of a real character.
Scott Wentworth was the real thing. Rising deftly to the big moments, he also
found a way to bring humanity to the one-liners.
The others in the cast were also solid,
offering us the high standard of dramatic and musical performance that we have
come to expect at Stratford. The Russian choreography was brilliantly executed,
with special kudos in order for the extraordinarily disciplined bottle dancers: Matt Alfano, Gabriel Antonacci, Stephen
Cota and Julius Sermonia.
Kate Hennig (photo: right) gave as good as she got as
Tevye’s wife Golde; Andre Morin was a fine young enterprising
tailor; and Mike Nadajewski captured the essence of
Perchik’s revolutionary fervor.
The dance sequences excited the
audience time and again, but it was perhaps one particular scene - “The Dream”
- that demonstrated the exceptional imagination animating this production. It
was entertaining and it was magical in its use of masks and levitation. “Bravo”
Allen Moyer (set design), Dana Osborne (costumes) and Michael Walton
Bock’s musical score was not particularly innovative, even in 1964,
but he had a keen ear for both Russian and Ukrainian dance music and for klezmer
music. Some might say that given the seriousness of the ideas dealt
with in the libretto, the music comes across as too slick and too popular, but
then this is music popularized for success on Broadway.
Some might also say that Bock’s music
coupled with Tevye’s near Borscht Belt jokes undermines the reality
of the suffering of Jewish peasants under the Czar; these Fiddler Jews make a joke about
everything, and when all else fails a song and a dance keeps them happy. In the
end, these happy go lucky Fiddler Jews
are not wiped out; they simply move to America, and live happily ever after.
And some might say that’s the point of the story – making the best use of what
The essence of Fiddler on the Roof is tradition, and
holding on to universal values in the face of change. Some of the changes
portrayed in this production are technological – sewing machines increased
efficiency in business, for example – a good thing. Other changes were
life-threatening. Revolution was coming to Russia, but anti-semitism was
embraced by the new regime as it had been by the old. Those Jews who had been
able to emigrate only as far as Poland or Germany found to their horror that
they had not gone nearly far enough.
Tears and laughter endear
us to Tevye and his family, but the fate of the Jewish people was under far
more of a threat than Fiddler on the Roof would suggest. Even in a production as brilliant as this one, one
strains to ignore the difference between the entertaining Broadway version of
the Jewish condition in this era and the far more disturbing truth as revealed in history books.
Labels: Broadway, Concert_Review, Donna Feore, Fiddler on the Roof, Jerry Bock, Kate Hennig, musicals, Scott Wentworth, Stratford Festival