Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fiddler on the Roof--Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

A Movable Feast

The classic musical is written/composed by Joseph Stein, Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick from the stories of Shalom Aleichem.  It is directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director), music direction by Rick Lewis and choreography reproduced by Kent Zimmerman.  It will be playing at PCS at 128 NW 11th Ave. through October 27th.  For more information go to or call 503-445-3700.

What is tradition, but what was once, new ways, becoming old.  And what is a belief system but something that is ingrained.  Like a seed, it is sometimes rooted into the soil, or is blown by the wind to other parts of a fertile earth.  But it will never die, like the Jewish folks in this tale, even if they are sometimes precariously balanced like a…fiddler on the roof.  

The show opened with much acclaim on Broadway with the incomparable Zero Mostel in the lead.  The movie version had a somewhat muted Topol playing Tevye.  And the songs, Tradition; Matchmaker, Matchmaker; If I Were a Rich Man; To Life; Miracles of Miracles; Sunrise, Sunset; and Do You Love Me? being some of the best from Broadway.

The story takes place in Russia during the late 1800’s, as their Jewish citizens become more of a burden than an asset to the country.  On a smaller scale, the tale concerns a milkman, Tevye (David Studwell) and his wife, Goldie (Portland favorite, Susannah Mars) and their struggle to survive with five daughters, three of them marriageable age.  Tzeitel (Merideth Kaye Clark) is the eldest and must be married off first before the others—tradition.  And tradition also demands that the father, with the help of a Matchmaker, Yente (Sharonlee McLean) must pick a suitable (well-off) husband.

But, waiting in the wings is Hodel (Sarah Stevens) and Chava (Amber Kiara Mitchell).  The men they all end up with are not according to tradition, as one falls in love with a poor tailor, Motel (Drew Harper), another is smitten by a revolutionary teacher, Perchik (Zachary Prince) and the third goes for one of the enemy, and not of their faith, a Russian soldier, Fyedka (David Errigo, Jr.).  It is not so much that tradition is abandoned but that new traditions are born.  And so the cycle will continue and endure, as the people do.

This is a universal story, as all cultures have their changes and upsets, often caused by political or religious strife, or color of skin, or gender, or sexual preference.  The “beat goes on,” as we seek to evolve into a more tolerant and accepting civilization, and this story is a prime example of a capsulation of that process. 

The orchestra, under the direction of Lewis, does a super job of rendering the score, without overpowering the singers.  Tylor Neist, as the titled Fiddler, embodies the necessary bitter-sweet tones necessary for this moving tale.  And Coleman gives us an easy-flowing story that is constantly on the move, like its characters.

The scenic design by G. W. Mercier is simple but very effective, allowing the lighting (Ann Wrightson) to render much of the changes in setting and mood.  And the costumes (Jeff Cone) fit the period nicely.  Especially prominent are the dance numbers, faithfully reproduced by Zimmerman.

Studwell has a good voice and nicely underplays the lead character, but it seemed a bit too subdued to me.  Tevye should be a larger than life character and here, although he fits smoothly into the demands of the role, he seems to be at a cruising speed instead of full throttle.  Mars, on the other hand, gives us just the right amount of gusto as his wife, and is especially effective in their numbers together, such as Sunrise, Sunset and Do You Love Me?

The rest of the cast is in fine form.  McLean is wonderful as the matchmaker and the Grandmother.  And Corey Brunish, as the head of the military forces, allows us to see the conflicted nature of a leader of the conquering forces.  Nicely presented. 

Overall, I think the show needs to be ramped up a notch, as everything is there for a powerful show.  But, to be honest, it was an almost full house (even in such nasty weather) and they gave the show a standing ovation.

I do recommend this production, as it has some classic songs, well rendered, and a universal story.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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