Front-end loader and the title drop happens in the first line with a man playing the fiddle atop a shanty roof. Right on the heels, "Tradition" lays out the background, and by natural extrapolation, the premise of the musical in a number that rounds up the entire cast and peppers it with the style of humour running through its veins.
Cluelessness of not reading the synopsis, or having any idea as to the story beforehand (apart from there being Jewish characters), is done away in this opening before it spends time spinning a deliberate tapestry threading out the finer details of their lives.
Rolling up tales by a Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler on the Roof is a story of breaking with and watching the old ways tweak themselves to the new age and the fight that ensues. Letting the next generation show up and move up and on with their lives. The arranged marriages, the roles of the members of household, the types of people living in the village, all laid bare and ready to crumble and fall apart with time running by their side.
John Preece owns the role of Tevye. A milkman and father of five daughters from Anatevka (of a small village in Russia) with such lip, talking back and quipping with his God watching from above the upper stage right balcony. Exasperation rules his face as his life upends and he has to take what's coming to him. And it's a lot of fun watching him eat dirt and take the lumps.
Golde (Nancy Evans), Tevye's wife, has a distinctly weathered shrill of a voice. The pitch and screech making her scenes hard to ear, the old lady voice pattern down to a too distracting degree.
L'Chaim and a sliding reception
Photo © 2010, Carol Rosegg
Choreography during the wedding scene, of the men dancing with bottles on their heads, is superb and more so on end as they tip their heads so slightly to allow the bottles to fall right off. Either the mechanism to hold the glass is well done or their skills as dancers is impressive. Let's take the latter.
The walking non-talking metaphor of that fiddler from the roof (Jason Garrison) finds himself as an underscore throughout. From the opening curtains to the close, the mute non-character happens to be a rather lively characteristic in the wings of those eking out a meagre existence in the throes of change.
Familiar tunes heard from other places entirely are ringing through like watching Casablanca for the first time and picking up the origin of phrases. "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "If I Were a Rich Man" standing out as the most prominent among the soundtrack. Despite the wear, the performances of such are alive and smell of a weird new familiarity.
Against the deliberate pace of the first half, Act II breezes really quick. Ticking time from fallout to walkout over and done to make a short bridge between the intermission and curtain call. Clap your hands, it's done and drawn.
After a gluttony of standing ovations in the balcony of other shows, the audience here holds back their leg stretching while the ensemble cast take their bows. Only finally getting up to applaud that extra cheer as Preece walks back on stage. The curtain not wanting to fully drop back down for a little extension on the lapping and Preece all on his own taking the applause for carrying the plenty.
Like it says on the tin house of Tevye, "without tradition our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof." Watching the destabilising movement undercut the establishment and social mores pockets a couch in the revolution of progress inside a well of humour that's none-too-subtle for a pleasing musical and a good way to spend the afternoon.
Riffing on Gwen Stefani at the matinee performance on Saturday, 12 February 2011 at the Lexington Opera House. Sink in for about two and a half hours with a 15 minute intermission.
Reviewed on Friday, 18 February 2011