Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fiddler on the Roof, Beck Center

(George Roth as Tevye and Adina Bloom as Golde)

There are many ways to slice a production of a well-known show, such as Fiddler on the Roof. You can emphasize the comedy in the first act, or turn up the volume on the drama of the second act. You can make it a star vehicle for the actor playing Tevye or you can focus on the ensemble scenes and dances.

This production at the Beck Center is a comfortable melding of all those elements, but it lacks the memorable high points that often accompany such a classic piece.

Over the past 45 years, the book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick have taken up residence in our collective consciousness. Songs such as “If I Were a Rich Man, “Sunrise, Sunset,” and “Matchmaker” can unspool instantly in our cranial iPod.

Director Paul Gurgol brings out the humanity of Fiddler, working with a cast that never soars when either speaking or singing, but which always has a clear fix on their characters and the sad arc of Jewish life in Tsarist Russia at the turn of the 20th century.

As Tevye, George Roth delivers a sweet and nuanced performance. A remarkably generous actor (I don’t mean he tips heavily at Around the Corner) and a capable singer, Roth’s milkman blends easily with both family members and friends in the tiny town of Anatevka. Without the gargantuan comedic chops of Zero Mostel, who played the role originally on Broadway, or the age and authenticity of Chaim Topol, who is scheduled to appear as Tevye at PlayhouseSquare next June, Roth succeeds by making Tevye tender and fully committed to his family and his God.

In the role of Golde, Tevye’s wife, Adina Bloom sings very well but doesn’t have quite enough attitude to engender Tevye’s boot-shaking trepidation, when he imagines telling her bad news about their daughters’ marital exploits.

The voices in the rest of the cast range from good to merely adequate, so that none of the songs reach the heights one might expect. But the choreography by Lisa K. Lock is energetic, with a stirring ensemble dance in the opening “Tradition.” And scenic designer Russ Borski and lighting designer Trad A. Burns conjure some lovely tableaux.

While not a Fiddler for the ages, this production sends you away with a warm feeling of hope even as Tevye's world collapses around him. And that’s no small achievement.

Fiddler on the Roof
Through October 18 at the Beck Center,
17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood,

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