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'Fiddler' rings true in the present while honoring the past


“Fiddler on the Roof”

Runs Dec. 4-9

Tickets from $43

Wharton Center for Performing Arts


(517) 432-2000

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 5 — Looking for a “traditional values” play that’s also a contemporary allegory for persecuted refugees, “Fiddler on the Roof” is here! Originally written by Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the current touring production now at the Wharton Center brings back all of your favorite songs like “To Life” and “Sunrise, Sunset” with renewed vigor. It’s a long story, but overall it’s time well spent.

If you have never seen the film, or one of the countless high school or community theater productions, “Fiddler on the Roof” is the bleak yet hopeful story of Tevye (Danny Arnold) and his family — including a wife and five daughters trying to maintain their religious and cultural traditions despite the changing world around them. Set in Imperial Russia, Tevye sees his daughters shun arranged marriages, one marries outside of the Jewish faith, and eventually his entire village is evicted by the Tsar for being Jewish.

Compared to your average high school or community production, this current adaptation is stellar. Everything from the acting, singing, dancing, sets and costumes are first rate. That said, if you have been raised on “Fiddler” — particularly the film — like it’s the other Bible, you may have opinions about how particular actors play particular roles.

The easiest role to dissect and arguably the hardest role to cast is Tevye. It’s not Arnold’s fault that he is a tenor and sounds more like David Cross than Topol. It’s also not his fault that he looks and sounds 10 years too young for the role. For everything within his power from singing to acting he nails. You believe that Tevye loves his family and is afraid of his wife. But it’s hard to imagine that he’s that much older than the men asking permission to marry his daughters.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast blend seamlessly into their characters from Maite Uzal as Tevye’s pragmatic and fearsome wife Golde, Mel Weyn, Ruthy Froch and Natalie Powers as Tevye’s three oldest and equally strong-willed daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava respectively.

The three male suitors — Jesse Weil as Motel the shy tailor, Ryne Nardecchia as teacher and Bernie Bro socialist Perchik and Joshua Logan Alexander as the non-Jewish Fyedka — each bring appropriate fantasy boy qualities to their roles. Weil’s physicality is especially entertaining as he transitions from mouse to man in asking Tevye for Tzeitel’s hand in marriage.

In the village, Carol Beaugard often steals the show playing a less cartoonish version of Yente the busybody matchmaker, while Jonathan Von Mering as the butcher Lazar Wolf and Jeff Brooks as the constable play great foils for Tevye.

Probably the most welcome update is the subtlety. It’s not just individual performances, the entire production feels more grounded. Catherine Zuber’s costumes look more like clothes than stage wear and Michael Yeargan’s representative set design leaves lots of room for dancing and movement instead of cluttering the stage with clunky buildings.

The one welcome exception is during “Tevye’s Dream” where the dead come to congratulate and warn Tevye about his daughter’s wedding. Cloaked in surreal, ghoulish attire, the undead wedding guests are like “Bride of Frankenstein” interpreted by Cirque with the claws of Nosforatu. Combined with spooky lighting by Donald Holder and two-story shrieking of Olivia Gjurich as Fruma-Sarah, it’s a chilling and exciting sight.

Finally, the music and choreography of “Fiddler” are always a highlight in any production. The bottle dance is like the Moonwalk of Broadway that kills even in amateur productions. But when a professional orchestra kicks off the dance with a blazing clarinet solo, it’s spine tingling.


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