Fiddler on the Roof is a wonderful inter-generational musical for any ethnic group

Fiddler on the Roof

Gateway Theatre

Dec 12-31, 2012

Fiddler on the Roof is known as a 1964 hit Jewish Broadway musical that won 9 Tony Awards, while the 1971 film adaptation wan 2 Oscars and 3 Golden Globe Awards.   I grew up playing the songs on my accordion, because my mother used to listen to the movie soundtrack while I grew up in the 1970’s.  “Sunrise Sunset” and “If I Was a Rich Man” are great songs to play on the accordion, as well as “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss” from the musical The Sound of Music.  But instead of thinking that this musical was about Jewish people, I found myself thinking of the similarities to the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “The Flower Drum Song” which was about Chinese-Americans dealing with a clash between generations in San Francisco, which had recently been performed in Vancouver and Richmond by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre.  Fiddler on the Roof deals with universal themes of family, love, generational divide, while addressing racial discrimination and anti-semitism.

David Adams is brilliant as Tevye, the family patriarch.  He has a full rich voice and presents a warm humane character that struggles between his own ambitions singing “If I Were A Rich Man”, as well as the balance of “Tradition” with his wife Golde (Patti Allan) and letting their daughters be happy, and be empowered to make their own decisions about love and life, or not.  It is a time of social and political changes in Russia, and there are hints at the changing times and what this will mean to the small Jewish village.   A teacher named Perchik (Gaelan Beatty) comes to town, telling the villagers about what is happening in other cities.  Tevye takes a liking to the young man and barters with him to help educate his children.  This sets the wheels in motion for the challenges to the family in this musical.  Perchik bring knowledge of the outside world to the village, and falls in love with the oldest of Tevye’s daughters Yenta (Barbara Pollard).

The stage is simple, but works well.  The raised platform with doors, acting as either a village yard or the inside of a restaurant or house.  The musicians in the live pit orchestra are wonderful, led by music director Allen Stiles.  I especially the clarinetist, as it squeaked and bent the musical notes so I could really imagine a Jewish klezmer band coming alive with each song.  During the intermission, I was surprised to learn that my violinist friend Mark Ferris was playing in the pit orchestra, so I sent him a text about the clarinetist, who replied “Thanks” to my compliment.  The Gateway Theatre always employs great local musicians for their productions and the feedback is always genuine when I hear how much they are enjoying themselves.

The direction and cast are good.  There is strong acting from all the characters, but especially from Tevye’s three daughters and his wife.  Unfortunately, not all the actors have strong singing voices, so the use of microphones changes the ambiance levels and can be a distraction.  The action and the dialogue flows smoothly, and I found myself smiling a lot.  It was a real pleasure to see the dancing in the musical.  I don’t know how accurately traditional it was but it felt authentic.  And the dancing at the wedding of Perchik and Yenta is one of the philosophical turning points in the play.  The choreography is by Dawn Ewen, who is originally from Scotland.

While I thought that this was a great show for Vancouver because there is a strong Jewish community, it is even more important for other ethnic groups like Richmond’s large Chinese population, to see the show and learn more about the commonalities we all face.  And so I found myself thinking how the musical could be performed with Asian actors, and still be very relevant in almost any culture.  Ahh… but there are Asians in the cast, and Sharon Ong Crandall is one of them, playing multiple roles – but most brilliant in her role as Fruma-Sarah’s ghost.  It is a pivotal scene in the play. Gateway has always been supportive of colour blind casting for their supporting roles and chorus, and I absolutely remember being thrilled to see their production of “Brigadoon” a few years ago.  (Of course, I could imagine myself in the lead role – or at least wish I could be…)

I enjoyed Fiddler on the Roof, and was personally surprised to learn how much Jewish culture I have been recently learning, especially since I attended a friend’s Jewish wedding 2 years ago, and my partner got to hold one of the poles of the happa – a suspended cloth canopy held up over the bridal couple during the ceremony.  Having this personal experience, as well as knowing that I have so many friends of Jewish ancestry, whose own daughters are marrying into different cultures, just made this musical all the more real and poignant for me.




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