Fiddler on the Roof is one of the world’s best-loved musicals. And the Village Theatre’s new production (which played in their Issaquah Theatre through the end of December and is currently running at the Everett Performing Arts Center through January 27), serves as a reminder of how the show’s themes reflect both current and universal themes.
Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964. Though the story was based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories of Jewish life in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, the show also brings out a number of underlying themes that would become highly relevant in 1960s America. The idealistic student Perchik, for example, who protests for human rights, would soon have a counterpart at college campuses all across America. And Perchik’s assertion that “girls are people,” just as much as boys and men are, would be picked up by the rising feminist movement of the decade.
In fact, despite the show’s central character, Tevye the milkman, insisting in the opening song that “Tradition” is what holds the community together, the show’s subtitle might as well be Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” For throughout the musical, life in Tevye’s village of Anatevka becomes increasingly disrupted, with his three eldest daughters going out of their way to flout tradition. It’s a new challenge to the old order; something we see in our day as well.
The Village Theatre’s production stresses the humanity of all the characters. Tevye (Eric Polani Jensen) is a perfect Everyman, doing his bit, getting by, shrugging off most of his hardships with a good dose of humor (especially in his on-going conversations with God) and self-deprecation. The songs celebrate the small joys of life — the wish for a good husband in “Matchmaker,” the hopes for the future in “Sabbath Prayer,” the need to cheer just because you’re still alive in “To Life,” and of course in Tevye’s signature song, the yearning “If I Were a Rich Man.” And “Do You Love Me,” which Tevya and Golde (Bobbi Kotula) sing to each other, is an especially poignant look at the nature of the kind of true love that takes years to develop, quite a departure from the kind of conventional love songs you find in musicals.
The production makes good use of the Everett space, with some inventive touches, like the revolving section in the center of the stage, which is put to particularly good use during “The Dream.” The dance numbers are exciting (you’ve gotta love the bottle dancers) as well as being highly reminiscent of the action in the Fiddler movie (e.g, the Russian solders vs. the Jewish peasants in “To Life”); this production, like the film, also cuts the Act 2 number, “The Rumor/I Just Heard.” The cast is engaging, with a host of strong voices, making this a musically rich show that will get your foot tapping. It’s truly a Fiddler to enjoy.