When I was a young girl, I was fortunate enough to have parents who nurtured and shared their love of music with their children. Our home was often filled with the sound of musical films; everything from My Fair Lady to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
My father’s favourite musical was Fiddler on the Roof, which tells the story of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman and the trials and tribulations of marrying off three of his five headstrong daughters in Tsarist Russia. Call it a hunch, but with four cheeky daughters of his own, I think he felt a connection.
So, what better way to kick off the dad’s day weekend than with the Chemainus Theatre’s gala opening of Fiddler on the Roof, which began its four month run on Friday, June 17.
The 14th longest-running musical on broadway, Fiddler on the Roof takes place in the fictional Jewish town of Anatevke, in Tsarist Russia, under the watchful eye of the Constable. Tevye serves somewhat as a narrator, explaining the ways of the town and their traditions, which they hold dear. The matchmaker, Yente, comes with news that the towns’ wealthy butcher, Lazer Wolf wishes to marry Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel. However Tzeitel wants to marry Motel, a poor tailor, and the two convince Tevye to overlook the traditions of their culture for their happiness.
This interaction leads to one of the most memorable sequences of the production, where Tevye tricks Golde, his sharp-tongued wife, into approving the marriage by faking a dream, where Lazer’s dead wife Fruma-Sarah comes back from the grave to threaten revenge if the two are married.
During the wedding, the Constable arrives with a group of men and perform a ‘demonstration’ under orders of the Tsar, trashing the room and wrecking the festive atmosphere.
In the meantime, Tevye’s next eldest daughter Hodel has been falling in love with Perchik, a student revolutionary who is giving lessons to her sisters. Tevye must come to terms with Hodel’s decision to marry Perchik and follow him to Siberia, where he is exiled. Tevye’s faith is next tested when he learns that daughter Chava is secretly seeing Fyedka, a young Russian, and forbids her to see him. When the two elope to marry, Tevye tells the rest of the family she is dead to them.
The production is a family affair for Stephen and Rachel Aberle, who take their real life father-daughter relationship to the stage as Tevye and Tzeitel. Their chemistry on the stage is enjoyable and Stephen, while he may not have the same charisma of Chaim Topol (who played Tevye in the famous film adaptation), does a fantastic job of keeping the audience engaged and laughing.
The score’s catchy and sometimes boisterous tunes are performed perfectly by the entire crew. Vocals to look forward to include those of Mat Baker (Fyedka), Erin McGrath (Chava) and Julie McIsaac (Hodel).
What impressed me about the production was that despite its small cast, and without the aid of microphones, the actors put out a full, rich sound during the ensemble numbers. Even more impressive is the fact that most of the music is played live by the actors themselves.
Perhaps part of Fiddler’s universal charm is that it’s relatable.
While we have never experienced persecution to the degree of those in Russia in the early 20th century, we can all identify with Tevye’s struggle to provide for his children and maintain family values and traditions in a changing world.
Fiddler on the Roof plays at the Chemainus Theatre until September 3. For more information, visit www.chemainustheatrefestival.ca