Theater review: ‘Fiddler’ remains moving experience

Tevye. Let’s call him Oy-veryman, more Rodney Dangerfield than Job. “Fiddler on the Roof,” now in an
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For Gazette theater writer Bill Buell’s preview of this show, click here.

Tevye. Let’s call him Oy-veryman, more Rodney Dangerfield than Job.

‘Fiddler on the Roof’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $60-$20

MORE INFO: 346-6204 or www.proctors.org

“Fiddler on the Roof,” now in an appealing production at Proctors, courtesy of the national touring company, boasts John Preece as the poor milkman of Anatevka, a small Jewish village in Russia in 1905. Preece is the name just below the title, and with good reason: after 1,500 performances, you’d think he might phone it in. He doesn’t.

From his opening monologue, direct to the audience (and God), he merrily leads us on a tour of his headaches and heartaches, most of which concern his wife, Golde (Nancy Evans), and five daughters.

And tradition. Creators Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick have cleverly pulled together some of Sholem Aleichem’s stories into 18 scenes of a largely domestic comedy, wherein the opening number, a loud and confident song called “Tradition,” is repeatedly deconstructed by the rest of the show.

Traditions challenged

In scene after scene, Tevye and Golde’s views on the way things have traditionally been are challenged. Daughter Tzeitel (Lauren Nedelman) spurns the efforts of matchmaker Yente (Birdie Newman Katz) and decides to marry the man of her choice, Motel (Andrew Boza). Hodel (Julianne Katz) goes one step further and abandons the village altogether to be with her socialist boyfriend, Perchik (Kevin Stangler).

Finally, daughter Chava (Chelsey LeBel) marries a Russian outside the faith, Fyedka (Ben Michael), an act which causes Tevye to consider her dead to the family. For a while — a tense while — he and Golde are unwilling to give up that much tradition, even for the love of their child. Of course, they relent.

These challenges to family traditions are echoed by cruel changes in the larger world: pogroms and exile. The musical ends quietly, as Tevye and his family head to America to start life anew. One can almost imagine their arrival in the opening scene of “Ragtime.”

Mostly flowing

Aside from a mechanical breakdown on opening night that interrupted the show for about five minutes, the production flows. Set pieces fly in and drop down seamlessly; the lighting properly evokes mood; director Sammy Dallas Bayes’ choreography is handled well by the large and energetic cast; and conductor David Andrews Rogers lends beautiful support to the singers (special mention to clarinetist David D’Angelo, for the klezmer licks).

I wasn’t keen on the staging of “The Dream” (a little Wicked Witch of the West) or the fake beards on some of the younger men and the rabbi. Bob Pritchard’s Constable has physical presence, but he lacks menace; and Stangler has youthful earnestness but needs more vocal heft.

Elsewhere, I liked Boza’s take on “Miracle of Miracles;” the subtle interactions between Michael and LeBel; the energy of Dennis Setteducati as Mordcha; and the three-dimensional performance of Evans, whose wry retorts and grief-stricken looks speak volumes about this hard-working woman.

Preece’s trump card is understatement. With the timing of a Borscht Belt comic, the flying fists of frustration, and the rueful smile of a naughty boy, Preece makes Tevye a study in existential responsibility, which we’d all rather abdicate on occasion. No force, no showmanship on Preece’s part because he knows that everything is there in the role. Simply play it, with warmth.

Funny and moving and instructive: “Fiddler on the Roof” remains a terrific theatrical experience.

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