Fiddler on the Roof

Chagall_The_Fiddler_GALLERY_2By Philip Pearce

WHAT A WONDERFUL piece of work is Fiddler on the Roof! “You’ve Got to Have Heart,” according to a song from a very different show called Damn Yankees, and Fiddler has got plenty of heart. Its pre-revolutionary Russian village of Anatevka, created for the stage by Joseph Stein from Sholem Aleichem’s stories, is peopled with a lot of lovable Jewish eccentrics. They have glorious music by Jerry Bock and touching lyrics by Sheldon Harnick to sing and dance to. And their spokesman, with God and the local constable, is a harried but hopeful dairyman named Tevye, who has become a legend of American musical theater.

   Cabrillo Stage is offering Fiddler as the second production of its 2016 Summer Festival. It’s beautifully directed and artfully choreographed by Kikau Alvaro and it’s well worth the trip to Aptos from wherever you live.

Adam Campbell is a marvelous Tevye, brilliantly navigating the depths and shoals of his arguments with God and local society about poverty and the problems of launching three eligible daughters into matrimony. Big in body and voice, Campbell leads the play’s opening hymn to “Tradition,” the powerful adhesive that binds Anatevkans one to another. As he and his neighbors sing, they are linked in a lock-step dance that is as rigidly fixed as it is assured and graceful. Everyone knows his or her place and function inside this wall of tradition. But not for long. The daughters, backed by the unacceptable men they insist on marrying, begin, piece by piece, to break through the wall, till Papa Tevye and Mama Golde are left facing a twentieth century world they no longer recognize.

Brenna Sammon, Marian Hallin and Jenni Chapman are attractive and spirited and sing beautifully as the three senior daughters. From the moment they launch an improvised send-up of traditional courtship customs in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” it’s clear they are not going to let any old-fashioned flimflam hamper their search for the ideal husband.

Firstborn sister Tzeitel rebels when local matchmaker Yente arranges a marriage to the village’s fifty-something butcher Lazar Wolf. Alice Hughes makes a fine bustling busybody Yente and Mike Stark is at first an amiable goof and then a snarling terror in the role of the thwarted aging suitor. Tzeitel’s choice is the impoverished local tailor Motel (rhymes with “total,” not with some Hilton hostelry) played brave and bold by Ryan Fish until he quakes and retreats in the face of the actual Tevye.

The strange idea of love as a motive for marriage so startles Tevye that it sparks a blissful second act duet “Do You Love Me?” with his sharp-tongued wife Golde. Played by Marianne Thompson, she is slighter and prettier than most Goldes I’ve seen, but Thompson can’t help that and she and Campbell both have the acting and vocal skill to project every stage of the couple’s running capitulation to new ideas which they hate but (“on the other hand”) keep having to accept as inevitable.

Second daughter Hodel falls for a bookish Bolshevik named Perchik, acted with lots of drive and comic commitment by Jordan Sidfield. The last and bitterest blow to Tevye’s hopes falls when daughter Chava runs off and marries a guy named Fyedka (an agreeable Ryland Gordon) whose only fault is that he’s a Gentile.

It’s a show full of memorable set pieces, including the sensational all-male bottle dance at Tzeitel’s wedding. My own favorite is the crazy nightmare Tevye creates and describes to persuade Golde that the family’s late lamented granny has returned from the grave to sanction Tzeitel’s marriage to Motel. Shrieking and trailing wisps of ghostly white all over the set, Anya Ismail creates an unforgettable apparition at the center of the most hilarious sequence of the evening.

And what an added pleasure to have real live music. Jon Nordgren and a twenty-piece orchestra are in a sunken downstage pit that only allows a glimpse of Nordgren’s head, but projects the score with real distinction.

Fiddler on the Roof plays weekends through August 14th, starting Thursday this week and Wednesday the following two weeks.