Fiddler on the Roof | Stages St Louis

Fiddler-on-the-Roof 75Did I gush too much? I don’t think so. This production of Fiddler on the Roof is outstanding in every aspect.

Fiddler-on-the-Roof 500

Stages St. Louis closes its 28th season with the timeless musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Fiddler first debuted on Broadway all the way back in 1964 at the Imperial Theatre. Do the math and you will realize that this story has been celebrated for 50 years. I suppose one could say it has become a tradition for this story to be told throughout the years.

The story centers around Tevye (Bruce Sabath), his wife Golde (Kari Ely), and their five daughters: Tzeitel (Stephanie Lynne Mason), Hodel (Julie Hanson), Chava (Carissa Massaro), Shprintze (Grace Clark), and Bielke (Maria Knasel). Set in 1905 Russia, a cultural and militant revolution is causing Tevye and Golde’s world to implode as they are forced to watch their homeland and their time honored Jewish traditions slip away one by one.

For example, it is tradition to have a matchmaker, Yente (Rachel Coloff) marry off their daughters. Yente has a match for the beautiful Tzeitel—a successful, but much older, businessman, Lazer Wolf (Christopher Limber). However, Tzeitel has her heart set on marrying her childhood sweetheart, Motel (Nick Orfanella). Hodel becomes romantically entangled with the politically radical wanderer, Perchik (Jason Michael Evans). To make matters worse, Tevye and Golde’s middle daughter, Chava, eventually falls in love with Fyedka (David Bryant Johnson), a Christian man, which is one taboo (marrying outside of the Jewish faith) that Tevye cannot forgive.

On top of all the love affairs, the Russians force everyone in the small village of Anatevka to abandon their homes causing families to be torn apart and scattered to all corners of the world. I am not trying to be flippant, but seeing how Russia and Ukraine have had recent political differences, I couldn’t help but think the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Normally, I would start my review discussing the actors’ performances. I will get to them, but first I would like to focus on the technical stars—and they are stars.

Scenic Designer, James Wolk, completely took my breath away. His sets were magical and inspirational. From the 33 miniature houses that framed the stage to the rotating abode of Tevye and Golde, every set worked. I cannot praise this man and his crew enough for their attention to every minute detail. The sets transitioned seamlessly from one scene to the next allowing the story to unfold in front of the enchanting backgrounds. My hat is off to you Mr. Wolk; job well done.

Equally impressive is choreographer Gary John Larosa. In the program it says his job was to reproduce the original choreography which is a tall order to fill. (Imagine someone telling a painter to reproduce a Picasso!) The most notable successes Larosa achieved include the wedding scene, the dream sequence in Tevye’s bedroom and, of course, the crowd pleasing “To Life.”

The quad of Russian dancers gave me life! The four youthful dancers shined brightly in each of their movements. While it would be easy to gig one of them for dropping his bottle at the very end of the bottle dance, I feel that would just be me making a cheap shot. The level of talent and technical superiority those four displayed was just flat out fabulous.

Lou Bird, once again, displayed his brilliant eye for costuming excellence. Every character was immaculate from head to toe. With such a large cast, I was impressed that no detail was overlooked or shorthanded. I particularly enjoyed the costumes in the dream sequence—eye catching and bewitching are the words I would use to describe those costumes. Seriously folks, Lou Bird is a St. Louis treasure.

Of course, I cannot leave out the director, Michael Hamilton. The crew is only as good as the captain and Hamilton once again gets the most from his cast and crew in this sensational production. While the story moves quickly, Hamilton made sure the emotional moments of the show received the weight they deserved, and there are many. From the jovial wedding scene to Golde’s forced shunning of her own daughter, Hamilton made this reviewer shed a tear, and that is no easy task.

The only negative thing I have to say about the running of the production is the length of the one hour-forty five minute first act. I saw several patrons making an early exit for a bathroom break. But overall, Hamilton achieved excellence by creating a performance that will stay with me for a very long time.

Now, onto the actors.

Some people are born to paint, some people are born to dance. Bruce Sabath was born to play Tevye. From start to finish I found this talented actor’s performance to be flawless. His acting delivery was emotionally real, and his vocals were top notch. Actors of this caliber are such a delight to watch bring such a complicated character to life. Kudos Reb Sabath. (Oy! My first Reb!)

Equally stunning is St. Louis legend, Kari Ely. I don’t care how many times I see this actress, I always fall in love with her and each of her performances. Her portrayal of Golde is simply outstanding. Ely has this rare ability to command attention no matter where she is on the stage. It doesn’t matter if she is in an ensemble or singing a duet, Ely just has this ability to shine. As I mentioned before, the scene in which she is forced to shun her own daughter, Chava, brought me to tears. The anguish on her face and the language of her body created such a powerful moment that still makes my gut wrench. Ely is a brilliant actress.

Mason, Hanson, and Massaro each did an excellent job in their roles as Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, respectively. An extra nod to Mason for her gorgeous vocals and her ability to shine in the proper moments.

Both Nick Orfanella, as Motel, and Rachel Coloff, as Yente, succeeded in their roles as they gave the production much of its comedic relief. Orfanella has her facial expressions and comedic awkwardness down pat and Coloff just has that x-factor I love to see in actors. Her unique voice combined with her body language was sensational.

The only performance I didn’t get on board with was Evans as Perchik. I found his delivery to be a bit stiff and lacking the needed emotional realness.

One last nod goes to Christopher Limber as Lazar Wolf. Limber is another one of those actors I never get weary of seeing on stage. While his role may not have been one of the larger ones, he stood out for giving his performance a larger than life delivery.

Did I gush too much? I don’t think so. This production of Fiddler on the Roof is outstanding in every aspect. From the sets to the dancing to the acting, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Congratulations to Stages St. Louis for closing out their season with such a brilliant production. Obviously this production earns a must-see rating! | Jim Ryan

Fiddler on the Roof plays through Oct. 5 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre. Visit stagesstlouis.org for show times and ticket prices.  

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