Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 9
A tradition of qualityPCPA's production of Fiddler on the Roof does justice to one of Broadway's most famous of musicals
BY JOE PAYNE
Portraying the struggle of an oppressed people fighting to hold onto its traditions in a changing world—within a couple hours, no less—is not an easy task, but the masters of drama and music at PCPA Theaterfest are more than prepared for it.
The Fiddler on the Roof is one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals. Winning nine Tony Awards and enjoying three Broadway revivals and a wonderful film adaptation, the play has earned its place in the pantheon of great classic shows.
The play, by Joseph Stein, was based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, considered the “Jewish Mark Twain” for his accurate, regional depictions of Jewish communities, especially the shtetl, a small Jewish town.
And that’s where Fiddler takes place: in a shtetl called Anatevke in turn-of-the-century Russia. PCPA’s set design is warm, yet humble, reflecting the style of Jewish life, which is supposed to be practical—neither gaudy, nor extravagant.
We’re immediately introduced to the main theme of the play, from which it takes its title: a lone fiddler standing on a rooftop. In comes the protagonist, Tevye—a masterful Erik Stein—who explains how precarious it is to live in the time and place of his village and community, and still hold true to the tradition of his people. The situation is as delicate as a fiddler, playing his tune atop a roof, Tevye explains.
Stein is joined by the rest of the cast in the play’s opening musical number, which kicks off the idea of change encroaching on a people of tradition. Each member of PCPA’s ensemble is put to work singing in harmony, often while dancing complex choreography, to give the feel of a tight-knit village.
As the play develops, we’re shown the nature of Tevye’s dilemma. He has five daughters, the three eldest of which are all prospective wives for various villagers, native and foreign. The play examines how Tevye deals with his daughters’ betrothals in turn, each proving more taxing and a further break with his faith’s traditions.
Tevye tries to stay optimistic, often conversing with God. In such moments, Stein shows a talent for a natural style of acting; this is a man who is alone, having a dialogue with his creator. It’s neither casual nor forced, which makes it all the more poignant. The other moments when Stein shines are when Tevye addresses the audience directly. His easy way with humor makes these scenes special, but the dramatic moments cut deep as well.
Tevye’s better half, Golde, played by PCPA veteran and favorite Kitty Balay, shares much of Tevye’s concern about their daughters’ future. She meets with the town’s matchmaker, Yente, a hilarious Elizabeth Stuart. The two enliven the already witty banter from the script.
Tevye and Golde’s daughters Tzeitel (Karin Hendricks), Hodel (Krysta Smith), and Chava (Jessica Chanliau) are all hopeful and excited at the prospect of marriage, as their song Matchmaker Matchmaker illustrates. But, each of their decisions for a partner deviates further from tradition, which gives each actress a chance to shine as she falls in love, clashes with cultural norms, and confronts her father.
The rest of the town is quite a collection of characters. Lazar Wolf, a prospective husband for Tzeitel played by Billy Breed, is affronted and insulted when Tevye agrees to give him Tzeitel’s hand, but reneges on his word to allow her to marry her true love, Motel. Michael Jenkinson gives a heartfelt personage to the latter, whose love for Tzeitel is rivaled only by his fear of her father.
The play offers a wide variety of scenes that play to the strengths of PCPA’s skilled and sensitive artists. A wedding brings a hilarious row between angry factions, a wonderful dance number, and an impetus for a greater drama that begins to unfold and threaten Anatevke.
While PCPA Theaterfest’s current showing at Clark Center in Arroyo Grande is about to come to a close, Fiddler on the Roof will move to Solvang’s Festival Theatre, where it will start showing in early June. No matter where you see the show, it’s sure to be an insightful, fun, and inspiring performance.
Arts Editor Joe Payne wants to fiddle, but not on the roof. Contact him at email@example.com.