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Fiddler production shines at Stratford


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June 13, 2013
One of the top five shows in the history of musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof,” returns to the Stratford Festival this summer with more vitality than ever.

In it, a festival star with two decades of great dramatic successes already behind him reveals previously hidden talents. As the lead in an iconic musical, Scott Wentworth sings, dances and philosophizes with skill and verve. Happily, he is supported by a suitably outstanding production.

Not easy! Fiddler calls for exceptional talent.

Through a rich array of music, songs and dance, the show laments the disappearance of the colorful and very distinctive traditions of Jewish life in poor villages of Russia a century ago. It is a tidal wave of social change lending itself to distinctive story telling at which Wentworth is also a master, responding to his children’s ideas of overdue changing times. In terms of musicals, this one’s story is as important and memorable as the costumes, songs and music.

Important features of the Jewish traditions and signs of the changes are the substance and revealed in the village life of Tevye’s family. The main stream of development occurs in episodes in which his daughters seek to marry in breaches of tradition: marrying for love, taking a Christian husband; falling for a revolutionary renegade and emigrating. Their reactions to the persecution they give rise to are the substance of their lives which is being relentlessly altered.

The wedding of the eldest is the first example. It must occur before the others can marry, and is a traditional celebration under a lace canopy. A tradition falls with the unconventional invitation by another daughter’s secret boyfriend for an unattached girl to dance. She accepts. As the party comes to life it is raided under an edict from the czar. It was a familiar pattern in those days.

With every break, Tevye agonizes in opposition then gives in to indulgent paternal love. But he resists any mawkish sentimentality. He makes his deliberations real, lets his daughters marry and they lead finally to him questioning his wife Golde, played in a wonderfully real, down-to-earth style by Kate Hennig, “Do you love me?” The ensuing exchange is a model for a marriage counselor.

While Tevye and Golde lead the parade in the show, the large and talented cast produces spectacular dance routines, memorable songs and sets Tevye up for characteristic one-line comments on the conundrums of life. And the sustaining theme of the title character is Anna Atkinson who opens the show. The stage is set with doll-house sized village cottages with light shining from their windows and she is the fiddler perched precariously on a roof playing the themes of their lives while trying not to fall off. She reappears from time to time in the same fashion with another wistful, memorable tune sung in turn or danced as the action demands. If there is a main central element to the production, it is her role.

“Fiddler on the Roof,” another great production not to miss, is presented in repertory at Stratford’s Festival Theatre through Oct. 20. For more information and reservations, call 800-567-1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca.

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