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“Fiddler on the Roof” in Whittier: An Earnest Rendition of a Timeless Tale

Richard DeVicariis as Tevye in WTC’s “Fiddler on the Roof”

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

“Fiddler on the Roof” balances well at Candlelight Pavilion

Randy Hilton is Tevye in The Candlelight Pavilion "Fiddler on the Roof"

It has happened more than once. A Broadway show becomes a genuine hit, original in concept and musically compelling. Then it becomes an icon. Then it begins to look tired. Everyone has memorized the thing, the freshness vanishes and gradually it all becomes a giant cliche. Only with the passage of time, and silence, can one go back to looking at it as the stimulating show which first brought it to fame.

This would be a fine description of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which went from Tony-winning original to impressive film, to a seemingly never ending national tour touted locally as being a cultural imperative, to “Sunrise, Sunset” as the Muzak on department store elevators. Then silence, and distance, and now, locally, The Candlelight Pavilion’s revival. There, more than once, one heard surprise: “Wow, this show’s music is really beautiful,” and other comments confirming it as a classic.

And this production really is, for the most part, good enough to warrant such revelation. The cast is strong, the voices solid, and the feel of the thing very genuine. If you like the people onstage, you get connected. Certainly, it proves a great way to introduce children to both the charm of musical theater and evocative storytelling.

Randy Hilton leads the cast as Tevye, the dairyman, philosopher, dreamer and realist. He brings a physicality to the man’s pride, his patient sense of humor, and his tendency to lead with his heart before his head. He sings with conviction and warmth, and in all ways leads this cast in a show which has him onstage virtually all of the time.

Jenny Wentworth plays Golde, his wife. She has the attitude and energy down, though her singing is a bit edgy – something which stands out on the more melodic numbers. Blair Hollingsworth, Joanna Holliman and Kristina Brown make attractive work of Tevye’s elder daughters, with Holliman giving a particularly lovely version of my favorite song from the show, “Far From the Home I Love.” Scott Robinson does a lovely job as the geeky tailor, Edward Chamberlain comes off as a modified, gentle radical as the student Perchik. Jarred Barnard, as the Russian Christian interested in one of Tevye’s daughters, comes off as gentle and intellectual. It all works.

Director Chuck Ketter has a real feel for this piece, and gives it the sense of unity and place which are absolute essentials in making this work. Everyone must have a sense of character, to the smallest child. Considering the small stage and consequently small supporting cast, choreographer John Vaughan makes very attractive work of the more famous dance moments, from “Tradition,” to the bottle dance at the wedding, to the impressive kicks of celebratory Russians. Overall, movement throughout has an authentic feel.

If there is a down side to this production, and in this theater it is unavoidable, it is that the orchestral accompaniment is recorded. Unlike many Broadway musicals, the songs of “Fiddler on the Roof” are often conversational. They are quite literally talking set to music. To be forced to follow a prerecorded, standardized pacing dilutes the chance for personal expression, for playing off the other, or for responding to the mood created by a particular night’s audience in ways which stand out more forcefully because of this particular musical style.

Still, taken all in all, this comparatively small theater production of “Fiddler on the Roof” offers a chance to rediscover the charm of what truly is a classic American musical. And yes, despite the past hype, it really is a great introduction to the cultural history preserved so well by our immigrant Yiddish-speaking storytellers. Oh, yes.

What: “Fiddler on the Roof” When: Through February 26, meals begin at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: The Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: $48 – $68, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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