Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964 to acclaim, running for 3,242 performances and holding for a decade the title of longest-running B'way show. It won nine Tony awards, including best actor in a musical for Zero Mostel, playing Tevye, the lead. Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, it portrays the life of a Jewish dairy farmer in Russia, who has five daughters. HFAC (The Houston Family Arts Center) now presents it in the 456-seat auditorium at the Berry Center.
HFAC has done well to use the large theater at The Berry Center, which it has done in the past, as it provides a huge stage, desirable to contain the sweep of this musical work, which is epic. Set in 1905 in Anetevka, a small Russian village, it chronicles a family, a village, and, in its ending, a country. This production is brilliant because it captures the epic sweep, using 64 actors, but also because it captures the humanity, and the love, sometimes contentious, that infused the community.
There are two especial heroes in a regiment of talent: the director, Ilich Guardiola, who has marshaled hordes of skilled actors into a cohesive whole, and the actor playing Tevye, Jeffrey Baldwin, who strikes just the right note, whether arguing with his wife (she usually wins), or reminding God that it wouldn't hurt to send a little money his way. He reveres tradition, but bends with the times, and usually says "Yes" to his daughters after several "No's". Tevye is one of the great characters in fiction, and Baldwin does him justice.
Nora Hahn as his wife Golde has a less flashy role, but her matriarchal strength and family love emerge from under the stern demeanor the script calls for - she is excellent. The Fiddler (Erik Olmos Tristan), whether on the roof or in a festive crowd, has a sprightly manner, amusing body language, and silent charm. The marriage-age daughters, and their suitors, are all excellent: Tzeitel (Lindsay Sloan) and Motel the tailor (Nathan Crooks), Hodel (Ragan Richardson) and the Marxist scholar Perchik (Blake Jackson), Chava (Maddie Dennison) and the Russian youth Fyedka (Deion Galindo).
David Armstrong is authentic and wonderful as Lazar Wolf, the well-to-do butcher, and Cecil Davis is warm and amusing as an elderly rabbi a little out of his depth. Sheryl Rade as the matchmaker Yente gives a powerful, insistent performance.
The music, as I'm sure you know, is superb: "Tradition", "Matchmaker, Matchmaker", "If I Were a Rich Man", "Sunrise, Sunset", among many others. Baldwin's resonant voice delivers the songs with the wit and the humor required - one of Tevye' great assets is a wry, ironic sense-of-humor, and gentle heart that even forgives God's neglect. Baldwin's performance is delightful, insightful, intelligent, and, yes, brilliant. I found it flawless.
There is great deal of wonderful group dancing, choreography by Luke Hamilton, showing off the appropriate and colorful costumes designed by Lisa Garza. The dream sequence is fascinating, and a triumph of stagecraft. The lighting by Ron Putterman is excellent, and adds an intriguing haunting ambience to the fiddler when on the roof. The excellent musical direction is by Michael Moses. The music is pre-recorded, no orchestra, but HFAC has given us nonetheless a stunning production, and the recorded music works well.
This beautiful production, of course owes much to the powerful quality of the material: the book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, original production designed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and produced by Harold Prince - a pantheon of great theatrical talent. And, yes, they all won Tony awards for their contribution to Fiddler. This is a truly great production, standing on the shoulders of giants. The verdict:
An entertaining production captures all the brilliance, warmth, humor, charm, and compelling music of a show-business masterpiece, directed with authority and skill by Ilich Guardiola, with a superb performance by Jeffrey Baldwin as Tevye.
Fiddler on the Roof continues through July 28, from HFAC (Houston Family Arts Center) at Berry Center, 8877 Barker Cypress Rd. For information or ticketing, call 281-685-6374 or contact www.houstonfac.com.