Thursday, May 30, 2019

“Fiddler” Revival Returns To Civic Theatre, Warts And All.


One never wants to miss a production “Fiddler On The Roof” and this latest touring show at San Diego’s Civic Theatre is no exception.

In Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein’s 1964  “Fiddler On The Roof”, the milkman Tevye asks his wife Golde (Maite Weyn), “Do you love me?” She answers, “Do I love you…for twenty five years I’ve lived with him, Fought with him, starved with him, Twenty-five my bed is his, If that’s not love, what is?” Love comes in all forms, and yours truly, loves a good "Fiddler"

Block’s winning score includes “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Far From the Home I Love”, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, Chavelah (that one breaks my heart every time I hear it), “Sunrise, Sunset” (another tearjerker), “To Life”, “Miracle of Miracles”, and of course “Tradition”.
Yehezkel Lazarov, With Jonathan Von Mering (center) Celebrating the announcement of his daughters marriage  to Lazer Wolf.

The 2015 revival on Broadway with direction by one of San Diego’s finest (1980’s) Bartlett Sher that won rave reviews is on National Tour once again. The story captures the lives, trials and times of the people in the little village of Anatevka just before and at the beginning of the pogroms in Russia in the early 1900’s and is used as the backdrop for our story.

Yehezkle Lazaroe "If I were a Rich Man"
How Tevye (Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarow) copes with the struggles of feeding his family, to keeping them together in their faith (he talks to God) while adhering to the Jewish traditions of his ancestors in an ever-changing world, challenges the struggling milkman to the point that one more change in his life, one more bending the rules, one more break in tradition would tip the scales and throw that tradition-good or bad- out the window.

Even today as we speak, much of what we see in the backgrounds of every pious Tevye is played out in many homes where religious tradition is still followed to the last detail, up to and including the ultra religious that live in their shtles or communities in areas of New York, and if you happen to ever visit Israel you might want to take a trip back to those days and visit Me’a She’arim.   

From the very first “Tradition” sung by Lazarov (who has a wonderful voice) to the last soulful Anatevka with the entire cast/town including the fiddler, Paul Morland, to leaving their beloved homes by decree of the Czar, to leaving Anatevka with three days notice, Sher’s production has all the ingredients of making this “Fiddler” a memorable one for those having never seen it before. For those “Fiddler” addicts, this one reviewer was somewhat disappointed on a few fronts. More on that later.
Natalie Powers, Mel Weyn and Ruthy Froch
Tevye has five daughters but the story highlights his three eldest, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava (Mel Weyn, Ruthy Froch and Natalie Powers.) Of their love interests, Motel, the Tailor Motel Cam Zoil (Jessie Weil) excels. (“Miracle of Miracles”) He’s low keyed but engaging and loveable (at least from a mother’s point of view.)

Perchik (Ryne Nardecchia) the radical thinker ends up in a jail cell in Siberia and is followed by his love, Holel (“Far From The Home I Love”). It took a while for me to warm up to Nardecchia's Perchick when he first came on the scene. He doesn’t exactly endear himself to you from the start but comes through in aces.

The rebel in the family that causes Tevye and Golde grief is Chava’s Russian love interest Fyedka the young student sharing books with the liberated Chava. ( Joshua Logan Alexander not fitting the bill is  aloof and badly cast. I would call his performance as phoning in his part.) But nothing can compare to the heartbreaking (“Chavelah”) lament after she and Fyedka elope breaking Tevye’s heart in this last bit of change, in an ever -changing world.
Bottle Dancers
Maite Uzal’s Golda is just what the doctor ordered for this role; always the nagger and doubter and one holding the family together, Uzal gives us a softer and more endearing mother figure while keeping things between Tevye and his offspring at an even temper. 

And then there’s Yente (Carol Beaguard) the matchmaker. She (Yente) always tickles my funny bone as the downtrodden widow making matches (with what material she has in the closed off Anatevka) and sad sack appraisal of her own life. Beauguard fits the character from beginning to end.
Olivia Gjurich, Fruma Sara, Lazer Wolf's first wife come back from the dead.
 In what should be one of the funniest scenes, “The Dream”, Tevye has to convince Golde that their eldest Tzeitel, who was promised to Lazar Wolf, the butcher, (an unconvincing Jonathan Von Mering) is now going to marry Motel, the Tailor.

Under The Canopy
In order to do that Tevye has to convince Golda that in his dream her grandmother Tzeitle came back convinced that her great granddaughter Tzeitel was marrying Motel not Lazer Wolf.  (“A Blessing On Your House, Mazel Tov”). The company pulls that one off assisted with great lighting Donald Holder. 

Jerome Robbins’ choreography recreated by Christopher Evans and enhanced here by Hofesh Schecter brought some new moves at the “Wedding Dance” where we saw The Bottle Dancers (wonderful), and during the announcement of Tzietle’s marriage to Lazer Wolf  “To Life “ in the local drinking establishment, local peasants danced with the Jewish men in hora, and Slovic folk dances. All was festive until it wasn’t.  
The Wedding Scene with Jessie Weil and Mel Weyn as the newly weds.
Ted Sperling conducted with attention to content within the meaning of the songs, softening most of the traditional waltz in “Matchmaker”, and especially the love duet by Golda and Tevye. “Do You Love Me”?

Whatever was costume designer Catherine Zuber thinking when she outfitted all the boys in Tzitzit or small (katan) prayer shawl worn under their clothes with just the fringes showing, hanging almost to their knees and some without the fringes? My theatre buddy thought they were aprons. Not to beat a dying horse but Fyedka’s look, so far from the traditional styles everyone else wore, did not pass muster either.

And on my soapbox for the last time: “Fiddler”, while having some pretty funny moments of dialogue (Joseph Stein), is not a comedy. When Lazarow plays it hamming it up like he is in stand up comedy, with hand and face gestures, it does not enhance but takes away from the mood each of his off -handed movements suggests.
The Cast of Fiddler
Hamming up the role of Tevye (the woman in the row in back of me, as were others, laughed out loud throughout the production at his little shticks) is un-deserving to all the Tevye’s in the world who value family and tradition. Tradition, while seemingly old fashioned and perhaps out of date, is no laughing matter.

Imagine if all those living in all the Anatevka’s around Russia (or you fill in the blanks) now had to leave and come to America today, as many did then, what would have been their fate? Bigotry anti-Semitism, ignorance and hatred for ‘the other’ have no place for decency in the way we treat our fellow human beings.

Cast of Fiddler
For a musical that’s been around fifty-five years and still tugs at the heartstrings, is as current in today as it was in the 1900's and can boast seventeen proven to be recognizable musical numbers, still says volumes.

Enjoy!

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through June 2nd
Organization: Broadway/San Diego
Phone: 619-570-1100
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1100 Third Ave, downtown San Diego, 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $22.00
Web: broadwaysd.com
Venue: Civic Theatre
Photo: Joan Marcus

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