by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
It’s summer, and even little theatres trot out the big guns. Roger Rocka’s Good Company put The Sound of Music on its shoebox stage, and now Reedley’s River City Theatre Company manages to squeeze Fiddler on the Roof into the Opera House’s 14-foot proscenium. Does it fit? You betcha!
You know the show, you know the songs, you know the story…but here’s the nitty-gritty:
Tevye (Matt Wiebe), a Jewish milkman in the Russian town of Anatevka, likes to talk to God (who seems to be located right where the spotlight-operator stands). He and his wife, Golde (Barb Nurmi), have five daughters…and no money for dowries. Yente (Teresa Hoopes) the Matchmaker arranges a marriage for the oldest girl, Tzeitel (Stacie Hall), who really loves the tailor, Motel [pronounce it MOTT-ul, not Mo-TEL] (Ben Applegate). The next daughter, Hodel (Victoria Rosales), meets a radical-thinking scholar, Perchik (Tommie Hill), and would follow him anywhere. The third daughter, Chava (Rachel Zegarelli), falls for a Russian (Luke Sanborn).
All of this is set in a world where Jewish settlements could be obliterated overnight, where poverty and oppression could not squash the human spirit. That is why Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories have resonated for so long in so many parts of the world, and why the musical (Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) is still popular after 47 and a half years.
Fiddler rises or falls on the strength of its Tevye, and Wiebe (Harold Hill in RCTC’s The Music Man, and Fanny Feastyoureyes in many RCTC originals) rises to the occasion. He tromps around the stage with delight, evoking the film interpretation of Topol, with more than a touch of Les Miserables‘ Jean Valjean thrown in for good measure. There is genuine emotion as he wrestles with the problems of accepting the actions and decisions of his daughters while upholding the traditions that tie him to his land and culture. Nurmi’s Golde is a quiet match for him, showing strength, resolve, and love.
Hall and Applegate make a firebrand, passionate in his desire to lift the masses, and Rosales has a strong, optimistic presence. Tan Clark as Lazar Wolf, the jilted butcher, is gruff and teddy-bearish. Young Cody Ernsz is an earnest Mendel, and Lana Rotan has a spirited turn as Grandma Tzeitel.
Often, the Fiddler in the play merely mimes the violin while an orchestra member bows the strings, but Peter Estes plays his own to fine effect.
Steve Jones performed the superhuman task of guiding nearly 30 people around a matchbox stage with great style, and Wiebe even designed and built the set that gives a rustic aura to the proceedings.
You should see this production of Fiddler, and the Apple Pie Crumble is a great intermission treat.
Fiddler on the Roof continues its run at the Reedley Opera House, 1720 10th Street in Reedley, July 19-22, 26-29, and August 3-5. Thursday through Saturday shows are at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Dinners are available Friday and Saturday. Contact the box office: 559-638-6500 or 866-977-6500. You keep up with RCTC shows and get more info on their KRL theatre event page.