Having recently seen a charming middle school production of “Fiddler on the Roof” (featuring my talented niece, Katie) and a fine outing at Schenectady Light Opera Company, I sat in Pittsfield, arms crossed, thinking, “Enchant me again. I dare you.”
Well, I had to uncross my arms to applaud as vigorously as the others in the opening night audience — including lyricist Sheldon Harnick, the man who wrote the words to Jerry Bock’s memorable tunes. (Credit the late Joseph Stein for the book, based on stories by Sholom Aleichem.) BSC’s production is an unqualified hit.
It’s an indestructible piece, really, with serious ideas to further the story, and well-crafted musical numbers to reveal character and set the mood. Oh, and it’s also funny.
’Fiddler on the Roof’
WHERE: Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, Mass.
WHEN: Through July 14
HOW MUCH: $62-$15
MORE INFO: 413-236-8888, www.barringtonstageco.org
How could it not be? There’s Tevye (Brad Oscar), a poor, devout Jewish dairyman who negotiates with God as he might a customer. He’s also the husband to a scold, Golde (Joanna Glushak) who, for her own sanity, keeps tabs on his whereabouts and punctures his pontificating. Add a know-it-all village matchmaker, Yente (Rachel Coloff), a doddering rabbi (Gordon Stanley) and various small-town types, and laughs are inevitable.
The setting is a Russian village, Anatevka, and the year is 1905. Tevye and Golde have five daughters, the oldest of whom, Tzeitel (Rebecca Kuznick), is of marriageable age. Yente identifies wealthy widower Lazar Wolf (Jason Simon) as a candidate, but when Tzeitel protests, Tevye relents, seeing that his daughter’s happiness is more important than tradition.
Indeed, it’s this concept — what to preserve and what to jettison in the face of a changing world — that is at the heart of most of the problems facing Tevye, some personal, some public. Snatches of the opening melody “Tradition” appear throughout to remind us of options one has when confronted by new social orders.
There are 27 members of the cast, a lineup so talented that you’re struck by, for example, the brief vocalizing of Travis Nesbitt as Fyedka and the pipes of Alexander Levin as Perchik in “Now I Have Everything.” The other leads — Stephanie Lynn Mason, Dawn Rother and Colin Israel — offer vivid characterizations, as does The Fiddler himself, Andrew Mayer, a violinist of the first rank.
Director/choreographer Gary John La Rosa has staged the big production numbers that dominate Act 1 as sharply detailed snapshots of village life: “Sabbath Prayer,” “To Life,” the hilarious “The Dream,” and the entire wedding sequence are set pieces so brilliantly executed you’d like to push the rewind button. His work is complemented by that of the musical director, Darren Cohn and his nine-piece orchestra (love the accordion).
From the first words out of her mouth, Glushak makes Golde a flinty sort — tough on her kids, her husband. Why? She was matched to Tevye, so life hasn’t involved many choices. She’s poor, making do with what she has and, being a product of her culture, she focuses on the future of her daughters. But when Golde softens — at the wedding, in “Do You Love Me?” and “Anatevka” — we see this woman’s noble spirit. It’s a subtle and memorable performance.
As for Oscar, well, like Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane, he has played Tevye and Max Bialystock (in “The Producers”). If I say that those two worthies came to mind on Sunday, it’s not because Oscar is a knockoff. No. He’s simply in the tradition of the great clown princes, those actors of the broad take, impeccable timing, for comic and serious effect, and joyous interaction with the audience.
Such an astute and go-for-broke performance, supported by a voice that could sell a song even if Oscar’s arms were pinned at his sides. Thank God they’re not!
You couldn’t start off your musical theater summer any better than with a trip to Barrington Stage.