"Fiddler on the Roof"


ROSALIND FRIEDMAN

At Goodspeed, when Tevye finished singing “If I Were A Rich Man,” one of the defining songs in the gorgeously poignant musical, Fiddler on the Roof, the audience cheered, as the woman in front of me leaped from her seat to give Adam Heller a standing ovation. I thoroughly agreed with her, only learning later that the actor she was saluting was her son!

Under Rob Ruggiero's stunning direction, musical productions at the Goodspeed Opera House continue to exceed expectations in conception and execution. In 1776, Big River, Carousel and The Most Happy Fella, he captured the authentic essence of each show. Fiddler on the Roof, which has been extended through September 12, is no exception. Based on Sholem Aleichem's original stories, Joe Stein's Book, Jerry Bock's marvelous music, and Sheldon Harnick's poetic lyrics are brought to life with sensitivity and humor. Each song from “Tradition” to “Sunrise, Sunset,” is a gem. The choreography by Parker Esse and dance captain Curtis Schroeger, bottle dance included, is excellent, as is Michael Schweikhardt's rustic set design framed by white birch trees, lit by John Lasiter.

The story of a modest milkman, whose horse is always lame, his wife, Golde, and five daughters, living in a tiny village of Anatevka, Russia  in 1905  found a longtime home on Broadway and won all the awards in 1964. It starred Zero Mostel. The film featured Chaim Topol. (My own son, Paul, performed the role beautifully in 1978 with the Trumbull Youth Association.) Here at Goodspeed, Adam Heller is the heart and soul of the piece, giving an extraordinarily warm and richly textured performance as the beleaguered “Papa,” who is faced with changing times. Tevye's daughters, who would have been married off by a matchmaker, have different ideas. Yentel, the matchmaker, is played here with a welcome sweetness by Cheryl Stern. The oldest daughter, Tzeitel, lovely Barrie Kreinik, can't accept Lazer, the wealthy Butcher, a strong John Payonik; she's given her pledge to Motel, a poor tailor, the enthusiastic David Perlman. Hodel, the feisty Elizabeth De Rosa, who resembles Katie Holmes, falls in love with the Communist Perchik, played sincerely by Abdiel Vivancos; and Chava (Jenn Brissman) runs off with a Russian soldier, Fyedka (Timothy Hassler). Lori Wilner's Golde is a straightforward, hard-working woman; her number with Tevye, “Do You Love Me,” is perfect.

The amusing bedroom scene in which Tevye must convince Golde that Tzeitel will be cursed if she marries Lazar is highlighted by Joy Hermalyn's frightening Fruma-Sarah. Reality enters when the Russian Constable (Darren Matthias) first invades Tzeitel's wedding, then later announces that the whole town must flee in three days. Did I mention they are all Jewish?  It is an emotional scene, for many in the audience may have had that experience in their family history, as we have had. Each villager whom we have gotten to know must find places to go. Not easy!

Fiddler on the Roof is a fitting fond farewell to Michael P. Price, who founded Goodspeed over 50 years ago and is retiring this year.

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