Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on Sholem Aleichem's stories, Fiddler tells the well-known tale of Tevye, the poor Jewish dairyman, his wife, and five daughters in early 1900s Russia. Set in the changing world that surrounds him, Tevye tries to hold onto 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.
I believe Fiddler is one of the best written musicals of all time. Not only did Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music), and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) find a way to tackle some very serious topics, and balance them with humor, they also created a tight story. Also, many songs from this show have become standards, including "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Tradition," and "Sunrise, Sunset." The writers 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. The end result is a timeless tale that is touching and moving, no matter what religion you are, but also a story filled with hope.
Director M. Seth Reines sticks close to the blueprint that many directors of this show have used in the past, yet adds several effective original touches to keep the story fresh and vibrant. He ensures the humorous moments land with big laughs but also keeps the heart of the story and the negative impact of the anti-Semitism the villagers face always front and center. In one of the most effective original directorial additions, Reines uses the shutting of the doors that have been cut into the back set piece that represents the village to show how the townspeople turn their back on one of their own who goes against their traditions.
Jason E. Simon is the best sung Tevye I've ever seen. His rich, deep, beautiful voice achieves warm, stirring notes and his comic timing and personable connection with his fellow cast members form a simply beautiful performance. As Tevye's wife Golde, Kat Bailes is better in the emotional scenes in the second act, while her short, stern and biting comic take on the controlling wife is a little off putting in act one, lacking a sense of warmth to keep it from seeming to be the portrayal of just a constantly complaining woman.
The supporting cast achieves beautiful portrayals. Rebecca Kuznick and Jared Mancuso form a realistic couple as Tevye's oldest daughter Tzeitel and Motel, the man she loves, with Mancuso appropriately nervous as the nebbish tailor. As the second to oldest daughter Hodel, Brittany Santos excels on her solo of "Far from the Home I Love," and, as Perchik, the rebel stranger who comes to town and falls for Hodel, Jamie Parnell looks and acts the part perfectly. Alexandra Schwartz has a feel of purity and youthfulness about her as the next oldest daughter Chava, and Shane Hurst adds depth to the usually one-dimensional role of Fyedka, who finds himself drawn to Chava. Johanna Carlisle brings the right amount of energy to the part of Yente, the matchmaker. She manages to get every joke out of the dialogue but also brings a sweetness and softness to the part.
Choreographer Kurtis Overby incorporates some of Jerome Robbins' signature dance steps in his choreography, including the famous wedding bottle dance, but has also created some effective movement of his own. Douglas Clarke's set design is warm and creative, using birch trees in his designs, including three proscenium arches with richly detailed borders, which add texture to the Anatevka setting. Annabel Reader's costumes are beautiful in multiple shades of earthy colors, while Colin Riebel's lighting perfectly evokes the orange sunny days and blue twilight evenings in the village. Joshua D. Smith's music direction is stellar, achieving lush tunes from the cast and orchestra including some simply lovely violin solos from Allen Ames.
Fiddler on the Roof is a powerful piece of musical theatre with a wonderful score, a strong sense of humor, and realistic drama all effectively combining to tell a tale of a simple man, his family and fellow villagers who are all confronted by some serious issues in a time of change. With a superb turn by Jason E. Simon as Tevye, rich creative elements, and solid direction, ABT's production of this beloved musical is one of their best.
Fiddler on the Roof runs through April 3rd, 2016, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Music by Jerry Bock
*Member, Actors' Equity Association