THEATRE REVIEW: Still singing Tradition for this Fiddler

Audience shows its love for Tevye and family at Big Apple Productions/Valley Vocal Arts' presentation of Fiddler on the Roof.

Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… a fiddler on the roof!” So says Tevye, the most beloved dairyman and father of seven daughters the world has ever known.

Originally embodied by Zero Mostel, it’s been 51 years since the charismatic and proud Jewish patriarch of the musical Fiddler on the Roof first appeared on the Broadway stage.

His popularity was sealed seven years later when the film version, starring Topol, was released.

And if you need any proof on how much this guy is still loved, all you have to do is witness the latest local production of Fiddler on the Roof at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre.

Produced by Big Apple Productions and Valley Vocal Arts, with direction and full piano accompaniment by local wonder woman Melina Moore, the hands and faces of Thursday’s opening night audience are likely still aching from all the clapping and laughing that was going on.

A lot of this show’s success must be attributed to Tevye himself, in this case Paul Rossetti, who wears his beard and prayer shawl well – not bad for a gentile Italian-Catholic boy indeed.

From the opening number, Tradition, with the ensemble, to his incredible rendition of If I Were a Rich Man, hand gestures and facial expressions all on cue, to the quieter moments, where he breaks the fourth wall, speaking to the audience and God, Rossetti’s Tevye is full of chutzpah.

However, a leading man is nothing without his family, who round out this story of love, faith and tradition in troubled times.

Before we get into that, it must be said that besides being a musical-comedy, Fiddler is also a political story, set before the First and Second World Wars, when Jews were persecuted and displaced from their villages by the Russians for no other reason than their religion.

It is also a story about a father, whose daughters wish to break with tradition. This takes place around the time when women in the west were fighting for their rights in the suffragette movement.

The plot centers on Tevye and his wife Golde’s efforts to find husbands for their three eldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava (the harmonious trio of Courtney Harker, Keira Millin and Harriet Gardner). To their credit, but to their parents’ horror, the girls end up breaking tradition by marrying for love rather than having their marriages arranged by Yente, the town’s matchmaker.

However, the old fashioned sentiments of the plot (this is set in a pre-Downton Abbey era, after all) are matched by a strong female contingency.

Besides the daughters, you have Tevye’s nagging, voice-as-screechy-as-nails-on-a-chalkboard wife Golde (the fantastic Karen Bliss, whose voice is truly golden when she sings!) Then there’s the matchmaker (Susan Currie, who sounds more like she’s from Queens, N.Y. than someone living in czarist Russia, but no matter, she’s hilarious.)

And let’s not leave out the men: those husbands-to-be, matched and otherwise, who come in various states of facial hair (thanks to stylist Jessica Johnson), not to outdo their singing talents.

There is the widowed rich butcher Lazur Wolf (an unrecognizable Brian Martin, who here looks like an old hound dog, complete with chest-length beard); Motel, the shy tailor (Alex Patterson, who wears his beard very well), Perchik the revolutionary teacher (the unbearded Craig Howard) and the Russian Fyedka (Michael Gairns, also clean shaven).

I wish I could mention everyone here by name, but there are just too many who make up this huge cast. I will, however, mention some of my favourite scenes:

They all come in act one when Tevye gets drunk at the tavern with Lazur Wolf and then later falls into The Dream, where the ghost of Grandma Tzeitel (Moore’s delightful New York mama Ann Schein) and Lazur Wolfe’s deceased wife Fruma Sara (the fantastically scary Sara Evans, who is pushed around on a 10-foot tower on wheels) haunts him. And then there is the scene that will have you toasting L’chaim (to life) all over again. Anyone who has been to a bar or bat mitzvah, or in this case, a Jewish wedding, will know what I’m taking about – lots of singing, dancing and clapping.

Speaking of dancing – the four male Russian dancers (Nicholas Faucher, Patrick Yurkiw, Cameron Fraser-Monroe and Jay Megyesi, who are members of local Ukrainian dance groups, Sadok and Zirka) literally steal the show during the tavern scene (L’chaim) and the wedding between Tzeitel and Motel (Sunrise, Sunset.)

Their incredible Hopak dance, with leaps, squats and kicks, and at one point balancing open glass bottles on their hatted heads, will have you shouting “mazel tov!”

Also to be mentioned is Moore’s clean and expressive piano performance throughout the production – especially loved the klezmer style when she was joined by violinist Marinna Harker. The set, designed by multi-talented Rossetti, is rather sparse but effective and features live trees in the background that are silhouetted by a lit backdrop, used to great effect in the number Sunrise, Sunset (props to lighting designer and operator Beverley Peacock).

As of press time Friday, there were very few tickets left for the five mostly sold-out performances of Fiddler on the Roof. Visit the Ticket Seller at www.ticketseller.ca for information.