If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

 “Fiddler” Near Perfect at Goodspeed

 

Let’s be honest, is there anyone who doesn’t love “Fiddler on the Roof”? This enduring classic is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary and is being produced for the very first time (can that really be possible?) by Goodspeed Musicals. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end of this near-perfect revival at the East Haddam theatre and I’m willing to bet you will, too.

Based on the classic stories of Sholem Aleichem with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein, “Fiddler on the Roof” never grows old with its richly woven family tale about life in the small Russian village of Anatevka, circa 1905. Milkman Tevye (a simply wonderful Adam Heller), father of five daughters and hard-working husband of Golde (Lori Wilner, just right) is trying to carve out a living at a time when the Russian revolution is making noise. A more domestic revolution, however, is occurring right under Tevye’s nose. It seems women are getting ideas of their own and Tevye’s daughters aren’t sure they need marriages arranged for them anymore. The key theme of “Fiddler” (and the title of one of its most beloved songs) is “tradition”, and Tevye is torn between honoring the old ways while acknowledging that the world is changing.

Director Rob Ruggiero, who has already given us sumptuous productions of “1776”, “Showboat” and “The Most Happy Fella” at Goodspeed, directs a finely tuned “Fiddler” that emphasizes the humanity of its characters and seems as fresh and winning as it must have been 50 years ago. I specifically admired his staging of “Tevye’s Dream” which has often left me dazed and confused in other productions. Here Ruggiero clarifies and simplifies the staging not allowing the supernatural elements of the sequence to overpower the main players. He is assisted along the way by a splendid company of actors led by Mr. Heller. His Tevye was an early concern for me since I felt his performance lacked melancholy, but as soon as he finished leading the company in the opening number of “Tradition”, I relaxed knowing we were in good hands. He is a consummate performer and his Tevye is all one could hope for.

In other roles Cheryl Stern’s Yente the Matchmaker has the fussy practicality for the role down perfectly and, as Tevye’s older daughters, Barrie Kreinik, Elizabeth DeRosa and Jen Brissman, do wonders with a familiar song like “Matchmaker” breathing new life and zest into a great tune. And I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better rendition of “To Life” with Mr. Heller leading the men folk in an exuberant free-for-all that defines the joy of performance. Parker Esse’s choreography also delivers the thrills of the show-stopping bottle dance with admirable brio and Michael Schweikardt’s simple settings include a gorgeous line of tall white birch trees that set a haunting but peaceful scene. Top notch contributions are also noted in John Lasiter’s lighting and Alejo Vietti’s costuming. In all, there is little to complain about in this excellent revival. Go.

“Fiddler on the Roof” has already been extended at the Goodspeed Opera House through Friday, September 12.  For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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