There are some very special musicals that have stood the test of time because no matter how often you see them they still remain fresh, profound and necessary. Case in point: composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and librettist Joseph Stein’s 1964 classic Fiddler on the Roof, terrifically presented by Wright State University in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center.
The sheer magnetism of Fiddler occurs in its tuneful prologue. An entire town pauses to joyfully share what you should know about their lives, responsibilities, hopes, religion, and traditions. But what they don’t know is that their little spot of the world – the tiny village of Anatekva on the eve of the Russian Revolution circa 1905 – will ultimately and drastically transform beyond comprehension. Girls will be taught to read. Men will dance in public with women. A daughter will chose to love outside her faith despite ridicule. Anatekva itself will cease to exist. And along the way, there is great anticipation of how poor dairyman Tevye and his family will cope with the winds of change.
Josh Beasley’s playful, lighthearted and physical portrayal of Tevye fittingly conveys the role’s affectionate qualities as a loving father whose frequent chats with God give him purpose and direction. Megan Valle, stern yet comedic as Tevye’s wife Golde, exudes strength and authority, but also conveys tender sensitivity. In fact, during one of the most gorgeously staged renditions of Sunrise, Sunset I have seen, Valle spins her introspective lines into beautiful morsels of bewilderment brought about by the passage of time. Kayli Modell (Tzeitel), Danielle Bessler (Hodel), Emma Buchanan (Chava), Michaella Waickman (Shprintze), and Dana Bixler (Bielke) are uniformly dynamic as Tevye and Golde’s daughters. In particular, Modell is a refreshingly headstrong Tzeitel and Bessler delivers a phenomenally lyric-driven Far From the Home I Love absolutely testifying to the fact that Hodel’s unwavering love for her family will burn bright no matter where she resides (“I must go” never sounded so sure or lovingly defiant). Aaron Roitman (Motel), Kyle Miller (Perchik), and knockout dancer Philip Stock (Fydeka) are equally and respectively appealing as the suitors of Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava. Roitman’s awkward charm, Miller’s determined spirit (Now I Have Everything leaps forth as a meaningful epiphany), and Stock’s fiery flair are fine attributes. The cast also contains notable portrayals from Isabella Andrews as an appropriately nosey and concerned Yente, Joe Green as a firmly grounded Lazar Wolf, Joey Kennedy making the most of the easily perturbed Mendel in unexpected ways, Justin Matthews as the intimidating Constable, Louis Kurtzman as the Rabbi, the aforementioned Bixler as Grandma Tzeitel, Halle Augenstein as the Fiddler, and Rachel Mary Green who blends opera, pop and R&B with ghoulish glee as the frightening Fruma Sarah in Tevye’s Dream.
Director W. Stuart McDowell incorporates a few touches from Broadway’s stunning 2016 Tony-nominated Fiddler revival (for example, featuring all of Tevye and Golde’s daughters in Matchmaker), but adds specific elements of his own which broaden the story’s scope. In addition to allowing Tzeitel one last chance to take a snapshot of the mind while in her family’s presence, McDowell astutely aims for deeper resonance in the exceptional final sequence. Seeing the citizens of Anatevka separate to start their lives anew gives haunting credence to the current plight of refugees throughout the world. In fact, there is a brief, awe-inspiring moment implying that Tevye and his family have arrived in New York City as the spirit of the Fiddler guides them from above. McDowell’s first-rate artistic team includes choreographer Teressa Wylie McWilliams (an exuberant To Life and lively series of Wedding Dances, the aforementioned Tevye’s Dream, and luminous Chava Sequence are among her excellently character-focused routines), set designer David J. Castellano, lighting designer Matthew P. Benjamin, costumer Naomi Reisner, sound designer Ryan Burgdorf (expertly crafting the destruction pivotal to the distressing Act 1 finale), dialect coach Deborah Thomas, and music director Scot Wolley who conducts a superb onstage orchestra.
Now more than ever, it’s time to reassess the relatable potency and urgent relevancy of this marvelous tale of family, community and hope.
Fiddler on the Roof continues through Nov. 19 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Act One: 100 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Performances are Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 775-2500 or visit https://liberal-arts.wright.edu/theatre-dance-and-motion-pictures/box-office.
In related news, Broadway producer and author Jack Viertel will speak at Wright State University on Tuesday, Nov. 28 courtesy of the Musical Theatre Initiative. Viertel is Vice-President of Jujamcyn Theatre, one of Broadway’s largest and most successful producers, the artistic director of Encores series at New York City Center, and author of the book The Secret Life of the American Musical. Viertel, a member of MTI’s advisory board, will give a talk on his book from 10 a.m. to noon in the Creative Arts Center’s Jubilee Theatre (Directing Lab) and from 1 to 3 p.m. will give an interview and discussion with MTI Director, Joe Deer, in the same space. All events are free and open to the public.