Last night I went to the free dress rehearsal performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the college. I know that play and its music by heart, partly because the first time I saw it I was 12, and since then I have been singing the songs in choirs I was in as well as playing the music over and over and learning the words just for fun. Although I'm quite aware this is the Broadway version of my family's history, it is quite close for all that. My family (both sides) comes from the same region, a couple of generations back anyhow, as the characters from Sholem Alechem's story... my grandmother on my dad's side came from a little shetl outside of Kiev that no longer exists, not unlike the play's Anatevka. Her father was a subsistence farmer; that's about all I know about him except for the picture you'll find posted below of a fearsome, mean-looking man, who, I understand from the little I know of him, lived up to his appearance. She came to the U.S. because of pogroms when she was 12, just like the characters in the story, and about the same time.
My mom's relatives were different types... more intellectual, more educated, I believe. They lived in Lithuania somewhere, where the more skeptical Jews were supposed to come from. They went to England instead of to the U.S. intially, and to South Africa, where my great-grandfather and great-grandmother went, and that's how my mom was born in Cape Town.
But back to the performance. Given that I saw my first Fiddler in New York (perhaps even Broadway; I was too young to remember), this production had a lot to live up to. But the guy who played the main character, Tevye the milkman, was really terrific. He captured that certain spark the character has to have, as well as being a good singer and a credible dancer too.
I felt bad that Steve, my friend from choir, who has played Tevye in other productions as well as other parts and is the understudy here, did not get a larger singing part because he has such a great voice and after all speaks Yiddish and lives the part in some ways in his knowledge of Jewish history and lore. I hope the director used him as a resource in planning the production.
Most things rang true. The sets were absolutely amazing, fully as wonderful as in the big production I saw in New York--very evocative and creative. However, the makeup, particularly the beards and (ugh!) Yentl the matchmaker's stereotypically "Jewish" hooked nose were downright offensive, especially the nose. And some of the bit parts were filled by people who seemed carved out of wood, whose faces and voices expressed nothing at all. But given the reality that this is small time theater, in a tiny venue, I was well pleased, and plan to go back with the synagogue choir and my parents on the 15th. I recommend the show to whomever might be interested.