The Stratford Files: Fiddler on the Roof

Exactly how far would you be willing to bend your own traditions and beliefs without it breaking you? This is the theme of Fiddler on the Roof, the masterful musical by Joseph Stein and Sheldon Harnick. The story follows a family in a small Jewish community steeped in tradition and culture. Over time the father of the family Tevye, who by the traditions of the town, is in charge of the household has his traditions challenged by his three oldest daughters who each wish to marry a non-traditional husband. First and foremost it is a very intelligent and emotional play. There are no unsympathetic characters with the possible exception of the constable and even then he comes off as a relatively good man who is just following orders. Every single character is relatable and thus we as an audience can see all sides to the arguments that take place because all sides have a sympathetic voice with no straw men. This makes it so that we can feel sorry for a character while still seeing why the character who put them in their situation acted as they did. There are a lot of stories that try to have a similar effect, but very few who do it nearly as well.
The play expertly balances emotions with very few scenes that evoke only one emotion. There are many scenes that that go from making the audience laugh to making them cry to making them laugh again. This not only makes the play very heartfelt and touching but also very real since in real life people seldom go through times that are purely good or bad. Even the best days have patches of darkness in them and even the darkest times have at least a small patch of hope to them. The play has everything; humor, romance and tragedy and each element is nearly perfect.
Of course, none of this would be worth anything if it weren’t for the stellar cast which brings each of these characters to life. Scott Wentworth’s performance as Tevye is one of the best I’ve seen in any play. He brings the character’s cynical wit and staunch traditionalism to life, while also showing his loving and ultimately good nature. His conversations with God, and the soliloquies he performs every time he is asked to let one of his daughters marry, are some of the highlights of the show. His wife Golde is played expertly by Kate Hennig. Her sarcastic wit is more than equal to that of her husband and their moments together are some of the best in the play. Her wit, mixed with her genuine love for her family, is absolutely magnificent. She and Tevye are great together, both during their constant arguments and moments of genuine tenderness. Their song together, “Do you love me?” is one of the most touching moments in the play. Gabrielle Jones as Yente, the matchmaker is absolutely hilarious mixing sarcasm and absolute hyper excitement. Andre Morin as Motel and Jennefer Stewart as Tzeitel have fantastic chemistry together and their nervous energy both before and after asking Tevye for permission to marry is great. Mike Nadajewski does an admirable job as Perchik, getting across the character’s rebellious and occasionally prideful, but also kind and well-meaning personality across. The dance scene that he begins at the wedding really helps the audience appreciate the character. Jacquelyn French also does a splendiferous performance as Hodel, the sarcastic but sweet daughter of Tevye and Golde who slowly goes from having more or less the same values as the rest of her family and ambitiously hoping to become the wife of the Rabbi’s son to be swept away by Perchik’s much wilder beliefs and lifestyle. The two of them are phenomenal on stage together and the scenes when they dance are truly beautiful.
If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you will notice that I don’t often go away from plays unhappy, and mostly give positive reviews. However, there are a few plays that are truly and phenomenally memorable, that stick in the mind forever, never truly leaving. Plays like Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadward Muybridge , Prelude to a Kiss, the MADD production of Cats and Little One. This is one of these plays. So far, it is the best of the plays I’ve seen in Stratford and Othello is the only play I have yet to see that, I think, has even a chance of beating it, and even then I doubt it. If you have any opportunity to see this play, then you absolutely MUST.

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