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FIDDLER highlights all the right emotionally charge traditions at Porthouse

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Eric van Baars, the director of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, now on stage at Porthouse Theatre on the grounds of Blossom Music Center, states of the show, “This life-affirming musical will illuminate the powers of tradition, both in the theatrical sense of the rituals which draw us to musical theatre and the powers of communal values to support our tough decisions in life.”

He goes on to say, “Just as Tevya is tested to accept change, our production will play with some of the traditional elements, promising to be not your Bubbe’s FIDDLER.”   van Baars, fortunately, isn’t totally correct.  Having just seen an embarrassing tradition-light production of FIDDLER at Canada’s Stratford Festival, it was with great happiness that I experienced a production that would have made my “Bubbe” (Yiddish, for grandmother) hark back to her roots in Lomza, Poland, a real-life parallel to the musical’s shtetl (village).

When Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock joined forces to write FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, now recognized as one of the greatest of American musicals, they did so in order to create an homage to their heritage.  A heritage which included hundreds of years of Jews in eastern Europe, whose life style and lives had been destroyed by pogroms (uprisings), forced evacuations, and ultimately by the “final solution,” the Holocaust.

Traditions were the guts of the life of these people, for, as Tevya, the central character indicates, “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no. But in our little village, you might say everyone is a fiddler on the roof. You might ask, ‘if it’s so dangerous there, why do we stay up?’ Because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!”.

The musical is set  in Tsarist Russia, in 1905.  It is loosely based on TEVYE AND HIS DAUGHTERS, written by the Yiddish writer and humorist, Shalom Aleichem (which in Hebrew means “peace be with you).  The action centers on a poor milkman with five daughters and his attempts to maintain his religious and societal customs, while internal attitude changes and outside influences exert their control over his people.

The story is carried through not only words, but significant and meaningful music and lyrics.  The score includes such classics as “Matchmaker,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” “To Life,” and “Sunrise, Sunset.”

The original Broadway production of the show was the first musical in history to surpass the 3,000 performance mark.  It won nine Tony awards

van Baars, and his production team deserve a standing ovation for the production’s fidelity to traditions.  Correct Hebrew pronunciation, customs such as kissing the mezuzah (prayer scroll) on the door posts, the sanctity of the Sabbath prayer, and adherence to the cantorial musical sounds, were all present.  (Factors missing from the Stratford staging.)

The Porthouse cast is outstanding.  George Roth is a loving Tevya, much in the pattern of Luther Adler and Topol.  Though he engenders the appropriate laughs, he does not play for them through exaggeration (as Harvey Fierstein and Zero Mostel did when they played the role.)   The scenes where Tevya’s resolves are tested are beautifully enacted, played with sincerity and emotional confusion.

Tracee Patterson has the right balance between being a nagging “yiddisher mamma” and the fulcrum which guides her family through strife. “Do You Love Me,” her duet with Roth, is charming.

Though she gets a little shrill at times, Danielle Dorfman creates a believable Tzeitel.  Jessica Benson’s Hodel has a grounded sweet quality, and her version of “Far From the Home I Love,” is a tear inducer.  “Now I Have Everything, which she sings with Jake Wood, is endearing.  Wood makes for a solid Perchik.

Brady Miller is delightful as Motel the Tailor.  Lissy Gulick gets laughs as Yente.  Sam Rohloff does a nice job of developing a believable Fyedka, while Madeleine Drees creates the right pathos as Hodel.  Logan Schmucher plays and performs well as the on-stage Fiddler.

John Crawford’s inventive choreography added much to the show, especially in the delightful staging of the show-stopping “The Dream,” which featured a very funny Brianna DeRosa as Grandma Tzeitel.

Jennifer Korecki’s fine orchestra was cantrorial and klemzer-correct, nicely underscoring, rather than overpowering the singers.

Nolan O’Dell’s scenic design worked well, but one might question the contemporary pattern of the grillwork on the sliding screens. The inventive writing the names of seasons in Hebrew on the stage floor was a creative touch.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Nothing but admirable praise can be heaped on Eric van Baars and his Porthouse cast of FIDDLER.  This absolutely must see production is everything one would want in the creation of the tribute to a way of life destroyed, but lived!  L’Chaim!

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF runs until August 11 at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center.  For tickets call 330-672-3884 or go online to