Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
“Fiddler on the Roof” in Whittier: An Earnest Rendition of a Timeless Tale
No big shock that the 1960s classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof” has stuck around as it has. The music’s blend of Broadway and klezmer has entranced more than one generation by now. The story line’s mesh of fatalistic humor, embattled tradition in the face of change, and humanity in the face of rising evil resonates far beyond the Jewish heritage it celebrates.
The demands of a production of “Fiddler” are fairly specific. Its leads must create strong characters who sing with authority and accuracy. Though most of its cast need only have enough rhythm to handle simple folk dances, four men must be able to pull off the famed “bottle dance” without faking it. Lastly, it must look right: earthen-toned, peasant clothes of the rough cloth of the Russian countryside, complemented by the specific trappings of orthodox Judaism.
In the case of Whittier Community Theatre, most of these demands are met most of the time. The characterizations range from good to very good. The costuming by the trio of Andi Townsend, Roxie Lee, and director Karen Jacobson gives the right feel, and Nancy West’s set pieces move easily allowing the pacing to move quickly – perhaps a bit too quickly.
As director, Jacobson keeps the thing hopping, sometimes pushing through moments of reflection or grief so quickly the audience doesn’t have the usual time to process. This may be because – old fashioned as it is – “Fiddler” is long. Getting the audience out in a timely fashion may be playing a factor.
As for her cast, Jacobson’s looks right, though some of the men struggle vocally. WCT veteran Richard DeVicariis has a lovely time with Tevye, the milkman saddled with five daughters and an ailing horse. DeVicariis makes the man a bit less of a “presence” than sometimes, allowing the rest of the village to literally and societally tower over him more, but it works. Candy Beck makes fine work of the long-suffering Golde, his wife.
As the three elder daughters, Amy Anderson, Rebecca Schroeder and especially Mackenzie Rae Campbell create strong characters and sing with accuracy and some enthusiasm, though one wishes the poignant “Far From the Home I Love” allowed for more father-daughter interaction. One of the great standouts of the company, Jay Miramontes’ Motel the tailor proves sheepishly handsome, delightfully earnest, and impressive as a singer.
Justin Patrick Murphy’s revolutionary student, Perchik, has timing, authority and proves a fine dancer, though he needs to work on support and accuracy during his one essential moment of song. Gabriel Borjon’s gentle Fyedka sings well and keeps his Russian interloper quietly nurturing.
Standouts among the crowd of town folk include Eric Nelson, proud and forthright as the jilted butcher, Ray Merrill, wheezy and myopic as the aged rabbi, and Andy Kresowski, apologetically authoritative as the local Constable tasked with unsavory government orders. Summer Shippy has a lovely time in the dream sequence as Grandma Tzeitel. Murphy and three other young men do a fabulous job of the wedding dance, making all of the signature moves and never losing a bottle. It really is quite impressive, sparking spontaneous applause.
All of this is accompanied by a live orchestra of seven. As is often true of community theaters with volunteer musicians, their talents are somewhat varied, but under the leadership of Bill Wolfe they display enough vitality to keep the thing musical.
In short, though this “Fiddler on the Roof” may not be perfect, it is quite heart-felt. The jokes are still funny. The people are still touching. The staging – most especially that moment at the end when they must abandon all they have – proves visually satisfying. All in all, the good outweighs the imperfection most of the time. Most certainly, you will go home humming that music. How could you not?
What: “Fiddler on the Roof” When: Through September 22, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Sept. 16 Where: Whittier Community Theatre at The Center Theatre, 7630 S. Washington Ave. in Whittier How Much: $18 adults, $15 seniors and juniors (18 and under) Info: (562) 696-0600 or http://www.whittiercommunitytheatre.org