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Friday, September 16, 2016
In the opening number of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevya the Dairyman admits that nobody’s really sure how the traditions practiced by the Jews of Anatevka got started. But it doesn’t matter. The traditions are what help the community keep their balance, like that fiddler. The one on the roof.
Now, however, anyone who reads the newsheet handed out at the Round Barn’s production of “Fiddler” will know exactly how playwright Joseph Stein, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and composer Jerry Bock worked together to create the original Hal Prince production!
Ticket holders to this fourth production of “Fiddler on the Roof” will also learn about the inspiration artist Marc Chagall derived from the original Tevya stories penned by Sholem Aleichem, the history of the various Tevya’s who’ve acted on the Round Barn stage, and the amazing story of how Jewish refugees from the Ukrainian conflict are rebuilding their lives in a real life Anatevka, deliberately named the village in the famed musical.
All that before the opening curtain rises and Joseph Stein’s most famous musical fabulously comes to life once more on the Joseph Stein stage at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres.
Jeremy Littlejohn reprises the part of Tevya he first played in 2006. It is a role for which he is well suited, whether its leading the village in their celebration of “Tradition!” or dancing and singing “To Life,” or pondering “If I Were A Rich Man.” Littlejohn brings what in Hebrew is called “khavod,” sometimes translated as “weight,” signifying not how much one weighs, but how weighty a presence one brings to the scene. He does a great job with a central facet of the character, his willingness to express the full range of emotions to God: wonder, joy, sadness, regret, and even anger and disappointment. There is no false piety in Littlejohn’s portrayal -- just a determination to live out a personal relationship that takes God seriously enough to laugh with and cry with the Creator.
In Hebrew (last time) the word for love does not describe feelings so much as actions. That’s the truth behind the love in the portrayal of Tevya’s wife Golde by Amber Burgess. Whether its in her leadership in the Sabbath service, her response to Tevya’s dream, or simply her response in the central number “Do You Love Me?”, Burgess displays the calm and steady personality that can weather three unconventional marriages chosen by her daughters or the orders to pack up and move an entire household with only three days notice.
Not only that, but her costume design for Fiddler is perfect, bringing to life well worn but well cared for and clean clothes for the villagers.
Everyone in the village of Anatevka is there, just as we want them to be. The three oldest daughters (played by Kristin Brintnall, Abby Murray Vachon, and Katlyn Casanova) each push the envelope further and further, leaving us wondering in the end if faith and tradition will be flexible to handle more and more radical change. Their voices are to die for.
Travis Smith lives the tension between heartfelt love and societies boundaries (dare one say walls), in his portrayal of the Russian Fyedka. He also demonstrates his singular skills as Music Director.
Sarah Philabaum puts an exclamation point to her star turn as Fruma-Sarah, returned from the dead to back up Tevya’s decision to give in to his eldest daughter.
The youngest members of the cast, Amelia Lowery, Hannah Shetler, Martin Flowers, and Drew Flickinger demonstrate the depth of experience they’ve gathered in their theatrical careers, carving out clear characters instead of caricatures.
Director Charles Burr, who has acted or directed more productions of Fiddler than he can remember, recognizes how the stories of a particular people in a specific historical setting is also universal because of our shared humanity, and presents a version that is both comforting in its familiarity but also vibrant and alive.
Sarah McGowran’s choreography is especially strong in “Tradition,” “To Life,” and the extended wedding scene. Executive Producer Richard Pletcher has designed a set that is like one of those wonderful sliding puzzles, in which the pieces are rearranged in several patterns, revealing Anatevka as a character of its own.
The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee presents “Fiddler on the Roof,” Book by Joseph Stein, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Music by Jerry Bock, produced by special Arrangement with Music Theatre International, through October 16th. For reservations and information call 800-800-4942.