Mike Dostrow (left) and Kevin Worden broker a wedding deal in Fiddler on the Roof, which opened Thursday. (Photo: Horowitz)
Spring brings change. Last fall, Mammoth Lakes Repertory Company director Shira Dubrovner produced the socially conscious and hard-hitting drama “The Diary of Anne Frank.” In the season of Easter and Passover, she decided to lighten the mood (a tiny bit anyway), and what better show than “Fiddler on the Roof.” Set in 1905 Tsarist Russia, “Fiddler” is the musical tale of dairyman Tevye, who tries to maintain family and religious traditions in a country marching toward revolution.
Based on “Tevye and His Daughters,” written in 1894 (in Yiddish) by Sholem Aleichem, the adaptation by Joe Stein uses song and traditional-based dance to illustrate how life can be as precarious “as the perch of a fiddler on a roof.” The play’s title was derived from surrealist Marc Chagall’s painting, “The Fiddler,” the character a “metaphor for survival” for Russian Jews at the early 20th century intersection of Marxism and the Bible.
Jewish persecution — in this case the Tsar’s edict evicting the Jews from their village of Anatevka — is usually handled somberly in most shows. What separates “Fiddler” from the others is its choice to examine the inherent “joy” of the Jewish people, a joy for life which they are able to cling to even in the most uncertain times.
MLRC’s vastly entertaining production owes much to Dubrovner’s ability to marshal talent. “Fiddler” boasts a 30-person cast, one of the largest ever assembled for a Mammoth play. Many newcomers and young thespians are making their debut alongside veteran supporting players such as Cameron Ramey, Greg Young, Dee DiGioia and Spencer Myers, among others. I can’t laud everyone’s work individually, but would be remiss without giving a global “thumbs up” to the entire cast (with special mention to all the Eversons in numerous roles).
Key players include Mirth White, endearing as the matchmaking Yente; Deana Spence as Tevye’s wife, Golde, who really runs the household, but lets Tevye think he does; Karrie McFadden is fresh and spunky as Tzeitel; Tim Casey stitches a fine Motel the tailor; David Kubicka is winning as religious progressive Perchik and Mike Dostrow couldn’t be better as Wolf, the village butcher. And wait until you see Sabrina Nioche, in her second play ever, who makes quite a splash during the dream sequence.
“Fiddler,” however, depends heavily on its main character, and as Tevye, Kevin Worden’s gusto-driven performance is up to the task and more, dynamically acting, singing and dancing his way from first curtain to curtain call.
Composers Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick may be a lesser-known Broadway team, but many of the songs for “Fiddler” (including “Tradition,” “Matchmaker,” “If I Were A Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset”) have gone on to become hits and propelled the play to classic status. Most are rousing powerful numbers, to be sung with passion, a facet of the show not lost on Dubrovner, whose cast/chorus rises to the occasion with each song.
Dubrovner keeps the pace lively, and the production design simple, but effective. Period costumes by Dubrovner, Leslie Byberg, and Kathy Cage are authentic, but don’t distract from the performances. Noble Dinse’s set design is a sort-of cross between a Dogma film and Tim Burton, using pieces that can be reassembled for multiple uses, and a proscenium that outlines the village setting, but keeps the audience’s eyes where they belong: on the actors.
Musicals don’t get any better. “Fiddler” and Dubrovner and her players, make for a perfect match, and continue a tradition of local theatrical excellence.
“Fiddler on the Roof” plays Thursday through Saturday nights at 7 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m., through April 18 at the Mammoth Lakes Arts Center, 549 Old Mammoth Rd. Tickets: $20/adult; $18 Seniors/Students. Call for reservations: 760.609.1981.