Regional Reviews: Phoenix
For those unfamiliar with the story, Fiddler focuses on poor Jewish dairyman Tevye, his wife and five daughters. Set within the changing world around them, Tevye tries to hold on to his traditions and religious customs even as he deals with anti-Semitism and the Russian expulsion of Jews from their homes in his village of Anatevka. While the musical effectively tackles these serious subjects, bookwriter Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick have incorporated plenty of humor to balance the darker moments. They've also created realistic characters and situations to show how a simple, poor man like Tevye, while deeply religious, deals with the changing social mores that impact his family. I believe Fiddler is one of the best written musicals of all time, as not only do the creators find a way to tackle these serious topics, and balance them with humor, they've also created a tight story, with many songs in the score having become standards, including "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Tradition," and "Sunrise, Sunset." The end result is a timeless tale that is a touching and moving but also filled with hope.
Director/choreographer Noel Irick lets the heart of the story come through strongly. She has staged a lot of the action downstage so the actors are close to the audience, thereby providing an intimacy to the show. She also incorporates some of the signature Jerome Robbins dance steps into her choreography, including the famous wedding bottle dance, but has come up with some effective movement of her own that work extremely well, especially with such a large cast.
Jeffrey J. Davey and Kelsey Blanco are very good as Tevye and his wife Golde. They exhibit appropriate behavior for a couple that is supposed to have been together for twenty five years, yet didn't know each other until the day they wed. They have strong voices and appropriate facial expressions and reactions, resulting in two well thought out performances. Davey is especially good in the several moments when he has conversations with God.
There isn't a weak link in the entire supporting cast. As the oldest daughter Tzeitel and the man she loves, Motel, Heidi-Liz Johnson and JT Turner make a perfect mismatched couple. The fact that Turner is shorter than Johnson adds to the humor, though they exhibit a realistic sense of caring and love for each other. As the second to oldest daughter Hodel, Kristen Mabb has a clear, beautiful voice that excels on her solo of "Far From the Home I Love," and Greta Perlmutter is quite good as the next oldest daughter Chava. As the two men whom Mabb and Perlmutter find themselves drawn to, Zac Bushman and Noah Brown create fleshed-out characters that make you understand why the two women fall for them. Suze St. John is perfect as Yente the matchmaker, with well-paced delivery that make every one of her humorous lines land effectively.
While the set design by Bryan Rosen is fairly minimal, it works fine. The lighting design by Zachary J. Huffman and Mickey Courtney's costume designs are superb. Huffman creates some beautiful imagery with a range of colors that paint the back wall of theatre to set the time of day and season, along with shadowy night time scenes and Courtney's period perfect costumes are an abundance of varied patterns and colors. Debra Jo Davey works wonders with her small orchestra and her large cast, achieving lovely sounds from all, including effective work from McKenna Clausen as the the Fiddler.
When done right, Fiddler on the Roof is a powerful piece of musical theatre. The combination of a wonderful score, a strong sense of humor, and realistic drama effectively tells the tale of a simple man in a changing world. With a talented cast, good direction and fine creative aspects, Mesa Encore Theatre's production of this musical theatre classic is very well done.
Fiddler on the Roof runs at Mesa Encore Theatre through November 22nd, 2015, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center at 1 East Main Street in Mesa. Tickets can be ordered by calling (480) 644-6500 or at mesaencoretheatre.com.
Director / Choreographer: Noel Irick