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A CurtainUp Review
By Joe Green
Sholom Alechem's Fiddler on the Roof has come to Stratford as part of the Festivals' ongoing and mostly successful effort to broaden its audience through the presentation of popular musicals. The larger question of whether such efforts fit comfortably within the Festival's mandate must be left to another, broader discussion. On its own merits, this production sits extremely well on the Festival Theatre's thrust stage.
CurtainUp readers may remember Brent Carver's searing protrayal of Molina in the Tony Award winning musical version of Kiss of the Spider Woman produced in Toronto, New York and London by the now defunct Livent company. Well, stretch your imagination as far as it will go to picture Mr. Carver as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Mind-boggling when you think about it, but fascinating in his successful reading of the shtetl milk vendor in Tzarist Russia. Under Susan Schulman's splendid direction, Mr. Carver neatly avoids the kind of cliche too frequently seen in remounts of this musical (I am reminded of Theo Bickel's portrayal in a road company in San Diego some years ago when the normally wonderful Mr. Bickel was "phoning in" his performance). Mr. Carver's Tevye was both nuanced and forceful, at least until the final scenes when the energy on stage seemed to dissipate.
Fiddler is a musical with a dark conclusion (the Jews are forced to leave their little town of Anatevka) which requires a high level of restrained energy on stage to leave the audience in a state of awe and wonder. As Tevye's extended family is scattered by the winds of diaspora, we should be lifted by those same winds. However, despite this unfortunate let-down, the overall quality and strength of the production bought the nearly full house to its feet at the curtain's fall--and this was an audience with bus loads of high school kids taking up almost the entire balcony of the Festival Theatre!
Besides Mr. Carver's splendid reading of Tevye, this production was also graced by Barbara Barsky's Golde, Michael Therriault's Motel the tailor, and Fred Love's Perchik, the radical student. These featured players were well supported by a strong company of singers and dancers.
Ms. Schulman's direction was also well supported by Debra Hanson's Chagall-like set and Kevin Fraser's fluid and effective lighting. Michael Lichtfield's choreography, based on Jerome Robbins' initial staging, was vitally executed by the company.