The sorry state of the world gives us new reason to appreciate the depth of feeling so powerfully, so ingeniously embedded in “Fiddler on the Roof,” the much-loved and much-revived 1964 musical comedy that has returned to Homestead High School at a time when its story of the gradual disintegration of a family, and a community, strikes home with unusual force.
The superb production at Homestead High School, which will open this Thursday- Sunday, certainly honors the show’s spirit, as embodied in the central character of the Jewish milkman Tevye, living in a Russian town in the early 20th century, eternally wagging his tongue, shaking his fist and cracking wise at an indifferent God.
But as directed by Amelia Figg-Franzoi with her customary innovation, this multihued story moves to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s impossible to watch the people of Tevye’s town, Anatevka, marching toward their unknown destinies in the shadow of a threatened pogrom without thinking of the thousands of families fleeing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere today.
Oy! Enough philosophizing, as Tevye might say with a shrug. It’s just a musical, no? Yes, but what a musical. The score, by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), enters your bloodstream, indelibly, upon a single hearing, so rousing are its songs of celebration, so beautiful the melodies of its songs of love and loss — two sides, for Tevye, of the same coin. And Joseph Stein’s book miraculously blends humor with a moving depiction of Tevye’s conflicted heart and the suffering of the Jews under Russian imperialism.
The role of Tevye, originated by the great comic actor Zero Mostel, is here undertaken by Senior Zach Ginkel (or junior, Danny Levy on Friday night). Zach Ginkel unleashes his rich voice with roof-raising force when Tevye’s emotion is at its height, bringing home the character’s indomitable will, often hidden beneath his self-deprecating humor and sorely tried by his rebellious daughters. Ginkel’s way with a classic Jewish joke is assured but unforced, his performance affecting but not overscaled, in keeping with the production’s emphasis on the musical’s emotional underpinnings, rather than the frosting of shticky comedy.
A framing device finds four young children first standing on a bare stage, contemporary figures in pastel reading a book. What book could these children possibly be reading? Fiddler on the Roof of-course.
Ginkel enters as Tevye, dressed traditionally, a prayer shawl hanging from underneath his vest. The famous violin solo is heard, and soon the stage has filled with the people of Anatevka singing the electrifying opening number, “Tradition,” which defines the central theme, the tension between honoring the past and accepting progress.
For Tevye, the conflict is a matter of daily headaches, given that three of his five daughters are approaching marrying age, and each proves unwilling to obey the longstanding tradition of arranged weddings. Tevye’s wife, Golde, is played by Romina Sapozhnikov, whose singing is lovely and whose character choices bring both laughter and tears to your eyes. She brings a moving, careworn quality to her performance.
Sophia Nelson makes a staunch, determined Tzeitel, Tevye’s eldest; alas we don’t get to hear much of her gorgeous soprano. Motel, the struggling tailor she loves, is played by John Sellars with an antic, quivering nervousness — he flings himself under the table when Tevye flies into a rage at Motel’s declaration of love for Tzeitel. Motel’s anxiety evaporates, turning to joy, with his ecstatic performance of “Miracle of Miracles.”
The stories of Tzeitel’s sisters Hodel (Emma Zander) and Chava (Sarah Verespej or Bella Gabor on Thursday) are less fully developed within the musical itself, but Zander’s lovely delivery of “Far From the Home I Love” is among the show’s musical highlights. Josh Hodge portrays the man Hodel comes to cherish, the radical Perchik, with an apt power. The bookish Chava, played with quiet dignity by Verespej and Gabor, breaks Tevye’s burdened heart by falling in love with a gentile Russian, Fyedka (Jack Cannon). Also undone by all this chaotic flouting of traditional marriage: the matchmaker Yente, imbued with flinty comic assurance by Silma Berrada. If you come for one thing, come for Berrada’s Yente… she is perfect.
Homestead High School’s production most noticeable difference might be the absence of the choreography by Jerome Robbins, who also directed the original production and is considered as much the show’s author as the writers of its book and score. Because of the recent Broadway production the rules of having to perform Robbins choreography was removed and Amelia Figg-Franzoi was allowed to play with her own choreography. Inspired by Hofesh Shechter, the Israeli-born modern dance choreographer who heads a dance company in London and also choreographed the 2015 Broadway production.
The orchestra performs the score, under the music director and new choir teacher Kristen Houge, with sumptuous, idiomatic style. Emily Eckhardt, a HHS graduate designed the costumes in autumnal colors. They are models of period homage. The lighting, by Betsy Bowen, enhances the quicksilver changes of mood.
By the climactic tableau we are brought back to the children watching the show, packing up themselves, forced to leave their home. All we see are people in transit, carrying the few possessions they can bring with them, moving with a weary but steady gait into an unknown future. A pause and refugees in modern outfits appear and join the travelers. This an image that might have been taken from the front page of a newspaper on almost any day this year.
Join us at Homestead High School this weekend for an amazing production of Fiddler on the Roof. Homestead High School is a fun and cheap way to see theatre in the area. Join us for our Winter Musical Fiddler on the Roof.
Thursday February 9th @7pm
Friday February 10th @7pm
Saturday February 11th @7pm
Sunday February 12th @1pm
All tickets are bought at the door the night of the show. The Box Office opens an hour before the show and accepts cash or checks. Our James Barr Performing Arts Center seats over 1000 people, so we do not reserve seats. It’s a first come first serve open seating venue.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Theatre Department at 262-238-5674 or email the production manager at firstname.lastname@example.org