Tradition

A Fiddler on the Roof. Sounds… addictive, no?

Not the classic opener, but you might agree had you been at the showing of Fiddler we saw this week. I promised no singing or dancing, and kept my word. But we had ladies behind us singing, people off to the right trying to start a clap-along, and several people trying to grapevine their way to the parking lot after the show.

It was good to confirm that I still knew the play almost by heart (we put it on in high school). And though my appreciation of musicals has certainly waned the last few years, I do still love this one.

For the set design they leaned heavily on the influence of Marc Chagall, as he also inspired the original staging, and was both a Jew and a geographic contemporary, more or less, of the characters in the story (he was Belarussian by birth).

Chagall did plenty of work that showcased shtetl life and such, though I admit the style didn’t really work for me. The primary colours and simplified storybook styles jarred with the brown, homespun world depicted. I get that it reflected the elements of fantasy and imagination in the story, but I kept looking at the “mobile” on the ceiling and being distracted by the child who looked like the kid from Where the Wild Things Are.

The initial scenes worried me a bit, as they really played up the schtick and yuks, which, while likely true to original stagings, isn’t really my thing. Ask Sherry — I’m not a fan of stylized. 🙂 After the first couple of scenes, however, things largely smoothed out and the comedy was allowed to be a bit more natural.

Scott Wentworth played Tevye, which amused me a bit since we just saw him as Shylock a couple of weeks ago. Apparently the Jews are just one guy. 🙂 He was a bit different from other Tevye portrayals I’ve seen — and let’s face it, it’s easy to just follow the leader where that character is concerned. He was a bit… smaller? Which worked for Wentworth. Also more conversational and less theatrical, if that makes sense. The audience certainly liked him, and there was definite play in the performance.

Golde I didn’t like so much. Granted, she’s a bit of a straight man and always bossy and grumbly. But her singing particularly was annoying. Clearly she’s not usually a musical actress, and while they worked with Wentworth’s vocal limitations well, not so for Golde, and she ended up weird and shrill a number of times. She and Tevye had their moments of camaraderie and comedy, but it wasn’t consistent.

The daughters were interestingly cast from a physical perspective. Their performances were fine, but they managed to use size and physical presence to underscore their personalities and roles. And while I found Tzeitel’s full-face grin distracting at times, it did make her lovely. Motel… well, I know the character is a nebbish, but it still grates.

I found Yente stuck out a bit, too. She was a tad young for my taste. Seemed odd to have an ancient, doddering rabbi, and a middle-aged Yente. In my mind they’re kind of opposites that fit together somehow. She was also the only one who had a really noticeable Jewish accent. Which is typical, and part of the comedy, but still.

I wonder, too, how many actors who’ve played the Fiddler have been women. The Fiddler at that performance was, and our high school one was, too. I always enjoy seeing how they costume the Fiddler. A hint of jester, but a certain elegance somehow, too. And goodness knows I love me some fiddler/violin music.

The set was simple and very wooden, which is to be expected. They made use of tiny prop houses to represent the village, which I liked. They cast a warm and close knit glow and feeling. Though I was compelled to text a picture to Andrew with the Zoolander reference of, “Is this a shtetl for ants!!!” 🙂

Overall, while not every aspect of the play’s presentation worked for me, I appreciated that they tried some different things, and enjoyed myself a great deal.

And I managed to make it all the way home without a single folk dance step.

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