The Rubicon Theatre continues its ambitious "Brave New World" season with a stirring production of Fiddler on the Roof. Fiddler On The Roof is a musical based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem with a book by Jerry Stein and music by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. It opened on Broadway in 1964 with Zero Mostel as Tevye the Milkman, and went on to become one of the longest running productions in history. It also had four Broadway revivals, and was made into a successful movie starring Topol (who is currently embarking on a new national tour, due in Los Angeles later this year). The show gave the world such classic songs as “If I Were A Rich Man,” “Sunrise Sunset,” and “Matchmaker.”
You don’t usually begin a review by talking about the set, but in the case of the Rubicon production, which is the first by a regional theatre, the set is a marvel. Director James O’Neil and designer Tom Giamario have transformed the theatre into the town of Anatevka in Czarist Russia of 1905. The audience is surrounded by Chagall–like painted walls, and the result in the most intimate Fiddler On The Roof I have ever seen. For the most part, this intimacy brings a new immediacy to the story, though when the acting style is pushed or performed rather than lived, it was a distraction.
The cast is quite good, led by veteran Canadian actor Jay Brazeau as Tevye, George Ball as a sturdy and compelling Lazar Wolf, and Eileen Barnett as Golde. Brazeau has a warm, winning presence that is nicely balanced by the no-nonsense Golde of Ms. Barnett. Tevye’s daughters are played by Leslie Henstock, Lauren Patten, and Heidi Bjorndahl. All three have lovely voices, but I particularly liked “Far From The Home I Love” as sung by Ms. Henstock. Lauren Patten charmed me with her detailed acting, and Helen Gellar was a funny but not overdone Yente. Perchik was played by Robert Adelman Hancock, who brought originality to his rendition of “Now I Have Everything.” Even the smaller role of the Constable was played by one of Rubicon’s star actors, Joseph Fuqua (he was their Hamlet).
Much of the credit for this production goes to director James O’Neil and one of Southern California’s best choreographers, Lee Martino. Lloyd Cooper is the musical director, conductor, and keyboardist of the six-person band. He does a great job with all the music. but for some odd reason some of it was recorded. Another misstep was the militancy of the first number, “Tradition.” Rather than being simple and true, it was rather strident. After that, though, things settled down considerably, and the show was a gift to the audience, who gave the production a standing ovation.
Fiddler on The Roof will play at the Rubicon Theatre until April 26.