Victor A. Young as Tevye. Photographer: John Watson
Fidler on the Roof
April 17 – June 22, 2014
“On the one hand…on the other hand”. This is the back and forth reasoning employed by Tevye, the Jewish milkman, as he struggles to think through the challenges that face his family and his traditional way of life in his little Russian village of Anatevka in the classic 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. In this version, brought to us by Stage West and directed by Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan, considering all sides in this manner is not just Tevye’s process, but perhaps the most fitting way of discussing what is ultimately an uneven production. So, to misquote the Good Book Tevye-style, if the process ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Herewith are the pros and cons of the production:
One the one hand – Jerry Bock’s music and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics remain wonderful as always. Each and every tune in Fidler is an earworm waiting to happen. Here the cast honours it fully with strong and beautiful voices and a live band that sticks to tradition and gives us the arrangements we expect.
On the other hand – A beautiful voice without the ability to act or fully emote the music renders numbers limp and lifeless and this was the case whenever Tevye’s daughters had their moments. In particular, the Matchmaker number (where the girl’s look forward to and then dread the outcomes of their arranged marriages) performed by Tzeitel (Elena Porter), Chava (Arielle Rombough) and Hodel (Sarah Higgins) lost all its girlish, hopeful charm due to the trio’s inability to bring their characters to life in any way but hitting the correct notes.
On the one hand – Choreographer Phil Nero did a lovely job recreating the wedding scene tenuous bottle dance and generally the younger male cast members charged with the bulk of the Jewish/Russian style of dance delivered.
On the other hand – Tevye (Victor A. Young) often looked like he was having minor seizures rather than letting loose in dance.
Speaking of Tevye
On the one hand – Despite some physical awkwardness, Young does a terrific job brining Tevye to life as a loveable, sometimes hard-headed, father and husband trying to adjust to the world around him. This is a character that needs to ooze warmth so that we attach instantly and allow the character to guide us through the story and his struggles and Young won our hearts from the start. It was an easy-going performance that forced nothing and instead let the natural allure of Tevye shine.
On the other hand – At times Young’s performance too easy going. His If I Were a Rich Man number where Tevye fantasizes about a life with gobs of money didn’t quite ramp up to the passionate frenzy it should have. Additionally in other scenes, Young’s anger never really seemed to boil at full temperature. Tevye is loveable and ultimately pliable, but his story should have been more of an emotional roller coaster along the way.
One the one hand – Stepkowski Tarhan’s staging of The Dream, where Tevye recounts his fake nightmare to his wife Golde (strongly played by Gabrielle Jones) in order to get his eldest daughter out of an arranged marriage, was both perfectly theatrical and visually splendid. As was her treatment of the bar scene where that same marriage arrangement was initially hatched. Stepkowski Tarhan also wisely let Natascha Gurgis as Yenta, the matchmaker, go full throttle and deliver a wonderfully comic and bitter performance. The directorial decision to move the intermission up a scene to land in a happy place rather than when tragedy strikes was a clever way to keep the energy of the audience up for this long production.
On the other hand – While the tragic pogrom scene is smartly delayed until the second act, it’s a total dud. Rather than showing the devastation and destruction caused by these kinds of raids, Stepkowski Tarhan merely had her actors knock over a table and rip open a pillow. Hardly worth ending a wedding celebration over. But the biggest complaint is the feeling that that show was about two beats too fast the entire production. Rather than letting the dialogue breathe, the cast is flung from one number to another, at times feeling mechanical and at other times feeling like they simply had to rush the show for fear of keeping us there too long.
On both hands – Apart from the fact that it worked the way it was supposed to, there can be nothing positive to say about Sean D. Ellis’s set design. Depicting a poor town doesn’t have to mean ugly, but that’s what Ellis gave us with a house that looked like it was rubbed in ashes, a half dead tree and a colour scheme that resembled baby poop. The best that can be said is that it was functional.
Keeping the hands thing going…
This is the trillionth production of Fidler I’ve been to. Or at least it seems that way. One the one hand, it’s certainly not the best one I’ve seen. But on the other hand, it’s far from the worst. The music holds up after all these years as does the story. The production is comfortably familiar with strong voices that don’t always thrill outside of the notes.
If you’ve never seen Fidler – This production is a nice place to start. SEE IT
If you’re a Fidler fanatic – Hits and misses make this a decent if not spectacular production. MAYBE SEE IT
For the occasional theatre goer – The story and music are wonderful, as are some of the performances, but at over two hours, this is a long production that doesn’t always keep the pace up. MAYBE SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – Too many directorial and cast missteps get in the way of making this a must attend for you. SKIP IT