An old favorite returns to town
Fiddler on the Roof
Leawood Stage Company
It has to say something when a play that involves the characters being segregated from society, sent off to Siberia, forced to disown their own children and ultimately driven from their home can be accused of sugarcoating the situation. And yet, such a charge has often been laid against Fiddler on the Roof, the perennial musical production whose latest incarnation began this last weekend courtesy of the Leawood Stage Company. It is true that the pogroms of the time were far more brutal than those depicted in the play. Fire and indeed death were not uncommon during those "spontaneous demonstrations." But Fiddler nonetheless remains a unique and, for the most part, honest look at the lives and times of the shtetl, a bastion of Eastern European Jewish life until the events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries whisked it away.
Indeed, the story takes place on the very cusp of these events - the beginning of the end. Tevye the dairyman (Rick Singers), who struggles to support his wife Golde (Tracy Fox), his five daughters, and a horse that seems perpetually in the shop (a Pinto, one suspects). Over the course of the play, we watch his hardscrabble but serene life get challenged from without and within. His eldest daughter, Tzeitel (Meredith Hollan) wishes to marry the tailor Motel (Ethan Platt), despite the bargain he made to marry her off to the butcher Lazar (Mark Johnson). Later, Hodel (Erin Coleman) falls in love with student radical Perchik (Marcus Grimes), and informs her father that they will be married. She does not seek his permission, only his blessing. But it is the last that is hardest of all, Chava (Paris Naster) falls for a Gentile boy, Fyedka (Austin Klein). This marriage, striking as it does at the root of his faith and tradition, Tevye is unable to square with himself. He rejects his daughter, weeping even as he does so. The final blow comes with an edict - the Jews of Anatevka are to vacate in three days. The old world is changing, and with it the people are swept along, whether they want it or not.
One has to admit that, when heading out to a community theatre production, there is an tendency to lower one's expectations. The balance between talent and enthusiasm tends to vary widely, so one's never quite sure what one is going to get. Happily, this production is definitely on the high side of things, rising above and beyond what we have come to expect. The principals are all excellent singers and actors, Tevye himself doing a most affecting job. The chorus was generally good, and the live orchestra was more than capable. The costumes and direction were very nicely done, and there were even moments when the production went well above and beyond what one generally expects in these things (the nightmare scene in particular must be singled out as a remarkable bit of stagecraft for which the production is to be congratulated).
The only real complaint one can bring to bear upon this was the sound. There was a lot of trouble with the radio mikes having the wrong level, being brushed or rustled against clothing, other characters, etc. - the usual complications, really. But they did seem to be particularly plaguing the show throughout the night. Also, the chorus was occasionally not quite strong enough to make up for their lack of microphones. In an outdoor venue there are of course limitations to what can be done, but I feel certain they can overcome these issues.
Overall, this is a most affecting production. "Fiddler" is an evergreen on the stage, a warhorse, and with reason. The songs and story are just as affecting today as when they were first brought to the stage nearly fifty years ago. Technical glitches aside, the renditions of "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Far From the Home I Love" were everything one could hope for. This is an excellent production, and the talent on display more than makes up for the various technical glitches. I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who wishes to see an old favorite done with grace and charm.