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Fiddler on the Roof Returns to Washington, DC – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye and the company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye and the company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Fiddler on the Roof  is a tender and uplifting tale inspired by the Yiddish stories of Sholem Aleichem who wrote them at the turn of the 20th century.  Set in the fictional Russian Jewish shtetl of Anatevka, the story centers on the lives of Tevye (Jonathan Hadary), a milkman, and his wife, Golde (Ann Arvia) and their five eligible daughters.  You’ll recognize his character instantly by the beloved tune “If I Were a Rich Man”.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Tevye is eternally conflicted by the changing times, the frightening political climate and the corruption of the strict religious precepts laid down by the rabbi.  Fiercely traditional in a paternalistic society, he tries to rationalize his daughters’ unorthodox marital choices.  “On the other hand, look at my daughter’s eyes,” he muses trying to justify the adoration he sees in them for the men they love.  Unfortunately these men have not been pre-selected by Yente (Valerie Leonard), who is the Matchmaker for all of the women in the village.  The confused Tevye vacillates between keeping tradition and pleasing the daughters he clearly adores.  “Without tradition our lives would be as shaky as the fiddler on the roof,” he maintains.

This embraceable story is buoyed by Jerome Robbins’ original choreography drawn from authentic folkloric dances and complemented by Paul Tazewell’s evocative period costumes.  In “The Dream” scene Tazewell takes inspiration from artist Marc Chagall’s fantasy creatures to create an eerily phantasmagorical imagining of Tevye’s nightmare – the one in which he will be forced to give his daughter Tzeitel (Dorea Schmidt) to the crusty old butcher Lazar Wolf (Erick Devine) chosen by the matchmaker to increase the family’s status in the community.  “I realize we are the chosen people, but sometimes couldn’t you choose someone else,” he laments.

L to R) Maria Rizzo as Chava, ­­­­­Tracy Lynn Olivera as Rivka, Joshua Morgan as Motel and Shayna Blass as Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Suzanne Blue Star Boy.

L to R) Maria Rizzo as Chava, ­­­­­Tracy Lynn Olivera as Rivka, Joshua Morgan as Motel and Shayna Blass as Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Suzanne Blue Star Boy.

Lightning Designer Colin K. Bills provides full-throttle spotlights for the song and dance numbers and a comforting cocoon for the intimate scenes.  One of the most moving moments is the candlelit chorus slowly descending onto the stage from the topmost tier and reverently chanting the “Sabbath Prayer”.

Set Designer Todd Rosenthal keeps things simple with a series of weathered wood platforms, an eye-catching spiral perch for the fiddler, and a center stage trap door that provides a mind-bending entrance for Fruma-Sarah (Tracy Lynn Olivera).

L to R) Ann Arvia as Golde and Valerie Leonard as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

L to R) Ann Arvia as Golde and Valerie Leonard as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

After the show Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, in recognition of Fiddler’s Washington, DC roots, its 50th Anniversary and citing deep appreciation for one of its legendary creators, presented celebrated 90-year old lyricist Sheldon Harnick with the theatre’s prestigious American Artist Award.  I asked Harnick about the night his show opened in DC.  “I was 40-years old when I wrote it,” he recalled with a mind as sharp as a blade.  “We were very worried because Zero [Mostel, who had originated the role of Tevye] was ill.  We weren’t even sure we would open.”  But open they did going on to Broadway and garnering nine Tony Awards for the longest-running musical of its time.  Harnick also heartily endorsed this staging saying, “They did a great job tonight!”

Through January 4, 2015 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.
For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

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