The “Tradition” Continues As Stages Presents A Poignant “Fiddler On The Roof”- Their Season Finale

Bruce Sabath and Paul Sabala in the opening of "Fiddler On The Roof" at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Bruce Sabath and Paul Sabala in the opening of “Fiddler On The Roof” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

In my opinion, one musical strikes a universal chord like no other- Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s “Fiddler On The Roof.” Combined with the masterful book by Joseph Stein, based on stories by Sholom Aleichem, it’s roots are in the Jewish tradition but the story of love, loss and change are resonant in everyone’s life at one time or another. Stages St. Louis has chosen it as the finale to this summer season and they have given us a gem.

Tevye's three eldest daughters dream of their future in "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" at Stages' "Fiddler On The Roof." Photo: Peter Wochniak

Tevye’s three eldest daughters dream of their future in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” at Stages’ “Fiddler On The Roof.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Winner of 9 Tony Awards- including best musical- in 1965, the story immediately touched everyone’s heart as it dealt with clashes of culture, generations, faith and, most importantly as expressed in the opening number, “Tradition.” Tevye, a poor dairyman in the small village of Anatevka in Russia at the beginning of the revolution, struggles to keep his family- a wife, Golde, and five daughters- provided for as he looks to God to help him from everything from him lame horse to the multitude of problems that suddenly befall him as times change and he’s not ready to go with those changes. Michael Hamilton has directed with a flair for the basics at the heart of the show and has his cast moving at a pace that gets us to curtain call in under three hours (must be a record for this show). Gary John LaRosa has recreated the original Jerome Robbins’ choreography and streamlined it beautifully for the small Kirkwood stage. In fact, some of the cuts from a lot of other productions are here and the show still moves at a comfortable yet speedy pace.

Bruce Sabath and Kari Ely explore the question, "Do You Love Me?" during "Fiddler On The Roof" at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Bruce Sabath and Kari Ely explore the question, “Do You Love Me?” during “Fiddler On The Roof” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

At the heart of the show, of course, if Tevye. Bruce Sabath is one of the best Tevye’s I’ve ever seen with his somewhat more youthful feel and his wonderful timing in both delivery and his handling of the songs. “If I Were A Rich Man” takes on a new, wonderful perspective with his version and his pairing with Golde in “Do You Love Me” is beautifully poignant. As Golde, one of our favorite local actresses, Kari Ely, simply commands the role. With a fine balance of tenderness and rigidity, she makes it her own.

The beautiful "Sabbath Prayer" as performed at Stages' "Fiddler On The Roof." Photo: Peter Wochniack

The beautiful “Sabbath Prayer” as performed at Stages’ “Fiddler On The Roof.” Photo: Peter Wochniack

Stephanie Lynne Mason is a delightful Tzeitel, Tevye’s eldest while Julie Hanson also shines as Hodel as does Carissa Massaro as Chava. The three daughters simply “kill” with their specialty number, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” early in the First Act. As their eventual counterparts, much to the chagrin of Mama and Papa, are Nick Orfanella as Motel, the Tailor, Jason Michael Evans as Perchick, the young student and David Bryant Johnson as Fyedka the (God forbid!) Russian soldier who is also a gentile. Their intertwining stories are just part of the fascinating framework of this powerful musical.

Bruce Sabath as Tevye wonders what life would be like "If I Were A Rich Man" at "Fiddler On The Roof" as performed at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Bruce Sabath as Tevye wonders what life would be like “If I Were A Rich Man” at “Fiddler On The Roof” as performed at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

The various “types,” as Tevye calls them, in the village include wonderful work by Christopher Limber as Lazar Wolf- the butcher who is originally promised Tzeitel, Rachel Coloff as Yente, the matchmaker, Steve Isom as the innkeeper, Bruce Rebold as the befuddled Rabbi, Whit Reichert as the sympathetic Constable and a host of other locals who help make up the diverse, tight-knit community of Anatevka. And, of course, great work by Paul Sabala as the Fiddler who becomes the silent but ever-present force linking them all together.

Filled with that great Bock and Harnick score including the exuberant “To Life,” the beautiful “Sabbath Prayer” and the always touching “Sunrise, Sunset,” this is one of the best melding of story and music ever to hit the stage. Add the fabulous “Bottle Dance” at the wedding and the hilarious “Tevye’s Dream,” and you’ve got a show crammed with memorable musical moments. The James Wolk scene design is splendid with smooth transitions between settings and Lou Bird’s costumes are nothing short of exquisite. Matthew McCarthy’s lighting design adds to the total stage picture and Lisa Campbell Albert’s musical direction is spot on.

The touching finale of "Fiddler On The Roof" as the people of Anatevka are leaving their home. Photo: Peter Wochniak

The touching finale of “Fiddler On The Roof” as the people of Anatevka are leaving their home. Photo: Peter Wochniak

“Fiddler On The Roof” is the total package. It delivers outstanding performances, exciting dances, incomparable music and a story that has been beloved since it first appeared on Broadway fifty years ago. That’s right, this is the 50th anniversary of this enduring musical. Don’t even think about missing this one- it plays through October 5th at Stages St. Louis. Give them a call at 314-821-2407 or contact them at stagesstlouis.org for tickets or more information.

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