Fiddler on the Roof (Village Theatre)

Posted on December 12, 2012

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Eric Polani Jensen as 'Teyve'

Eric Polani Jensen as family patriarch ‘Tevye’ in Village Theatre’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof
Photo by Jay Koh.
Property of Village Theatre.

Village Theatre tackles the challenging and beloved family favorite musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and succeeds in generating an embarrassment of entertainment riches for audiences. I admit I was skeptical upon arrival at the theater. The idea that a live show could convey the enduring charm and delight of Norman Jewison’s 1971 movie seemed highly unlikely but “miracle of miracles” I was more than pleasantly surprised at what I witnessed.

Fiddler on the Roof” tells the story of Russian-Jewish patriarch Tevye, a dairyman in Czarist Russia, struggling to maintain his balance while raising five daughters during difficult times. An incredibly likeable character, beloved for his unpretentious and authentic personal relationship with God, Tevye tells us that God’s law provides the balance required to keep him and other Jews from toppling over. Without it, their lives would be ‘as shaky as a fiddler on the roof’. Ever-changing times and increasingly strong-willed children, put Tevye’s faith as well as his ability to bend without breaking to the ultimate test.

From top to bottom the production shines, like a guiding light from Teyve’s beloved Torah. The cast and crew, set designs and scene transitions, choreography, songs, etc…all were off the chart amazing and masterfully executed. Many of the songs were so wonderfully recreated on stage that they gave me chills. There is so much to like about the show, that I am at a loss at where to begin, so let’s start at the top. Eric Polani Jensen as family patriarch Tevye had an almost insurmountable challenge in recreating the role defined by Chaim Topol. I have seen other performances of “Fiddler on the Roof” and struggled to erase the memory of Topol’s definitive performance in that role, but somehow Jensen pulls it off with ease. Jensen not only looks very similar to Topol’s Teyve, but channels the same lovable charisma of Topol and the results are astonishing. I was disappointed when Topol injured his back and was unable to perform “Fiddler” in Seattle recently, but Jensen’s performance satisfied my unfilled desire.

Teyve's Oldest Daughters

Jennifer Weingarten as Tzeidel, Emily Cawley as Hodel and Mara Solar as Chava in “Fiddler on the Roof“.
Photo by Jay Koh.
Property of Village Theatre.

Jensen’s task was made a bit easier by surrounding himself with an incredibly strong supporting cast. Bobbi Kotula was equally strong as family matriarch, Golde. Her voice was transcendent. The three oldest daughters played by Jennifer Weingarten (Tzeidel and Grandma Tzeidel), Emily Cawley (Hodel), Mara Solar (Chava) each brought unique charm to their roles, highlighted by their performance of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”. The two youngest daughters, played by Tatum Ludlam (Shprintze)) fresh off of her lead role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Analiese Emerson Guettinger (Bielke) did not let the size of their roles stop them from delivering memorable performances.

Laura Kenny was flawless as busybody, Yente the matchmaker, enchanting the audience and stealing most of the scenes she was in. The three potential suitors for the older daughters did not disappoint. Joshua Carter succeeds in conveying the lovable and initially timid tailor, Motel the tailor. Aaron C. Finley as young radical, Perchik and Mike Spee as the young Russian Fyedka, kept the performance strong. The inspired cast talent does not drop off with Matthew Posner (Lazar Wolf), Bob DeDea (Avram), Daniel Reaume (Constable), Vince Wingerter (Nachum), Allen Galli (Mordcha), Eric Ray Anderson (Rabbi) and others refusing to let the energy of the show decline at any point.

The Bottle Dancers

The Bottle Dancers (Adam Somers, Paul Flanagan and Cameron Lewis) in ‘Fiddler on the Roof‘.
Photo by Jay Koh.
Property of Village Theatre.

Village Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is the must-see show of the year. The capable cast faithfully delivers in spades, the humor, poignantly touching moments, magnificent choreographed dances and the beloved songs which embody “Fiddler on the Roof”. Village Theatre did not shy away from recreating on stage the mesmerizing bottle dance scene and they did so masterfully to the cheers of an appreciative audience. I particularly want to call out the stunning Jewish themed backdrop during the Act I and the wonderfully creative choreographed Graveyard/Dream sequence and “To Life” bar scenes as being phenomenally done. Of course, Fiddler has many emotionally touching scenes, like the “Do You Love Me?” duet of Tevye and Golde (Jensen and Kotula), the “Sunrise Sunset” wedding scene, “Far From the Home I Love” Hodel (Cawley) saying goodbye to Tevye (Jensen) and to her life in Anatevka and the Chavaleh Sequence where Tevye wonders where he went wrong. All are faithfully and lovingly recreated on stage in this production.

While there was little to complain about on stage, the audience left me puzzled. At the close of what was a truly remarkable show I felt a little like Tevye’s Moses, a stranger in a strange land, as I rose to my feet applauding the entire production for an excellent performance but found myself alone in my standing ovation. Whatever the reason, it was almost unforgivable. The show is lengthy but the production is so well paced that you hardly notice the passage of time. The performance is magical and I would admonish you to take time out during the busy holiday season and experience the love, faith, laughter and drama which is “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Fiddler” runs through December 30 at Village Theatre (http://villagetheatre.org) in Issaquah, before moving to Everett from January 4-27. Tickets are on sale for Issaquah and Everett performances.

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