Friday, June 27, 2003

Fiddler on the Roof (Cain Park)

'FIDDLER ON THE ROOF' is audience pleaser at Cain Park

September 22, 1964 is a significant date. ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’ opened, and forever after, the term musical comedy was changed. With Fiddler’s emphasis on music and dance sequences to extended and perfectly integrate into the story, the art form moved into a new era. Without Fiddler there would have been no modern concept musicals such as ‘CABARET’, ‘COMPANY,’ or ‘A CHORUS LINE.’

Jerry Bock’s score, reeking of Jewish harmonies and prayer-like intonations, and the sensitive lyrics of Sheldon Harnick, resulted in a show that ran 3242 performances in its first Broadway showing. They proved that art, universality and popularity can all come together.

Based on the stories of Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem’s description of life in the shtelle’s (small villages) of eastern Europe, especially on “Tevye and His Daughter,” the musical has been staged in such far reaching places as Japan and Argentina with equal success. It’s major reason for success? It has emotional heart power. Audiences come back again and again to “qvell”--a Yiddish word meaning to laugh and cry with delight.

The original sets were modeled after the works of Jewish Russian painter Marc Chagall. One of his most famous pieces pictures a fiddler on a roof. It laid the foundation for Harnick's’ opening musical statement, “In our little village of Anatevka you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on a roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking our back.” The story is a metaphoric history of the Jewish people..traditions broken, violated and changed.

There have been thousands of amateur and professional productions of the show. Some are good. Some, especially the amateur versions, are bad. Cain Park’s rendition, based on the strong staging by Fred Sternfeld, proficient musical direction by Larry Hartzell, wonderful reproduction of the original choreography by Eric van Baars, and Jeff Herrmann’s fine scenic and lighting designs, is one of the better versions.

Tom Fulton makes Tevya his own. This is not a Zero Mostel or Topol imitation. His Tevya is strong, yet sensitive. He plays for drama, and gets both laughs and emotional responses. His voice is strong, his acting right on-key. Sean Szaller is delightful as Motel the Tailor. He vocally and acting-wise matches with Kari Kandel, who portrays Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. Their “Miracle of Miracles” enchants. Jennifer Zappola gives a well-developed and musically solid portrayal as Hodel. Hannah DelMonte finely engenders daughter Shprintze’s with the right emotional highs and lows. Elaine Rembrandt has some nice moments as Yente, the Matchmaker. Unfortunately, Paula Duesing does not give Tevya’s wife Golda the right emotional shadings. This is a one dimensional characterization. The same can be said for Noah Budin’s Lazar Wolf, the Butcher. The men’s chorus is extremely strong as is the vocal power and blending of the cast. The dancing is well-tuned.

The production is blessed with violinist Michael Winer. His playing enhanced the production. The mini-concert he performed at intermission was outstanding. Too bad some members of the audience found their need for conversation more important than listening to his music.

Wisely, director Sternfeld, eliminated the often poorly done accents, and was very sensitive to the religious traditions that help make for an authentic portrayal.

The show’s highlights include the beautifully staged “Sabbath Prayer,” the creatively developed “The Dream,” and “Tradition,” the opening number which lays the foundation for the play.

Capsule judgement: If you have never seen ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF,’ or if you have seen it and want to renew acquaintances with this wonderful story, go to Cain Park. You will experience one of the better amateur productions! The show runs through July 6 in the Evans outdoor covered ampitheater.