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Theatre Review: Fiddler on the Roof, a flawless tradition

Lisa Much Lisa Much Theatre Review: Fiddler on the Roof, a flawless tradition
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This weekend, Gallery Players at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), opened their sixth production of Fiddler on the Roof to sold-out performances and loving audiences.

The classic and much adored musical centers on Tevye, a poor milkman, his wife Golde, and their five daughters in the village of Anatevka in Tsarist Russia in the early twentieth century. Tevye struggles with fulfilling the role bestowed upon him by tradition (the papa) while coping with modern thoughts from his daughters and changes in his community and the world regarding Jewish tradition. Fiddler presents both a powerful score and a compellingly poignant story.

Hannah Rossio (Hodel), Paula Shtein (Chava), and Eliya Smith (Tzeitel) (left to right) in Gallery Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Jared Saltman.

In honor of JCC’s impressive one hundredth birthday and Gallery Players’ sixty-fifth season, the organization chose to celebrate with a musical ripe with tradition both in theme and for the company. The tradition of staging Fiddler on the Roof began in 1972 with Harold Eisenstein at the helm. He again directed the January 1983 production celebrating the JCC’s Grand Reopening in a newly constructed building; this was the first performance in the new building’s auditorium. Fiddler was also performed by Gallery Players in June of 1993. To celebrate Gallery Players’ 50th anniversary, the production was revived again in October 1998.

The tradition continued when it was last performed in February 2006 with Jack Chomsky starring as Tevye. Chomsky returns to play Tevye in this production. “I look forward to gathering people from our own Jewish community to portray this imaginary village and to come together to create an Anatevka for the Ages,” said Chomsky. Irene Braverman is another long-lived Gallery Players tradition; she portrays Yente for the third time in this year’s production. Braverman first starred in the role in 1983 on the new stage.

Jack Chomsky (Tevye), Rick Holt (Avram), Dave Collard (Mordcha), and Tim Browning (Mendel) (left to right) in Gallery Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Jared Saltman.

As a whole, the cast meshes well together to create a culture of community and embodiment of Anatevka. Chomsky excels as Tevye, portraying a role rich in tradition with famed names behind it, yet adding much of himself to the character. His timed asides to the audience and God instill a smirk and rekindle fondness for one of the most recognized characters in musical theater history. His real life wife, Susan Gellman, as Golde possesses an obvious and natural chemistry with Chomsky, particularly in their duet, “Do You Love Me?” Irene Beaverman brings a nice touch of comedy as Yente. Elisha Beachy sparks a rebellious flair as Perchik, the tutor and revolutionary. His honey-smooth voice will send chills down your spine in “Now I Have Everything.”

The orchestration seem flawless, as does most of the music. One really feels the power behind the large ensemble numbers, as well as the subtleties of the solo songs. A tip of the hat to Stephanie Stephens for the musical direction and the talented six piece orchestra. Rosemary Cullison’s costumes create a sense of time and place both in reality and the abstract. Her design for “Tevye’s Dream” really stands out. All in all, despite some minor blocking snafus and a brutally long first act of 95 minutes, Mark Mann’s direction flows nicely, and you may notice a tear or two over some of the heartache in the show.

Fiddler on the Roof provides ample songs and lovely moments with a cast of characters you cannot help but get attached to. Listening to the audience, expect to hear the applause of unity through story-telling, history, and of course, tradition.

Fiddler on the Roof plays through March 17 at JCC, 1125 College Ave and plays Saturdays at 8 p.m. on March 2 and March 9, and Saturday, March 16, at 8:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. March 3, 10, and 17; and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on March 7 and 14. Ticket prices range from $10-25. More information can be found online at www.jccgalleryplayers.org.

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