Friday, April 2, 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane to "Fiddler on the Roof"

From the moment that Tevya burst on to the drive-in screen, I was hooked. We all were, especially my father. I can still see him swaggering, belting out his favorite lines: “ If I were a rich man, Daidle deedle daidle Daidle daidle deedle daidle dum…” and on and on, in his full-throttle baritone. It became my family’s signature tune, starting that night at the drive-in when my 12-year-old self fell in love with Tevya and his family while sitting on a blanket with my mother and father and my brothers in front of our car, feasting on hamburgers and milkshakes under the stars.

All those memories came flooding back last night at a community theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof at The Players Theatre in Sarasota. Director Carole Kleinberg said of the play: “’s very personal for me; it tells the story of my heritage, and gives me a glimpse into the lives of my Russian great grandparents.” Based on the book by Joseph Stein, adapted from the Yiddish stories of Sholem Aleichem, it’s a story about Tevya and his wife as their daughters come of marital age in the Russian village of Anatevka, on the eve of the Revolution.

Zero Mostel inhabited the character of Tevya in the first production in 1964 on Broadway, though in 1971 it’s Chaim Topol in the movie of my memory. I don’t know how closely Topol’s Tevya resembled the first incarnation but at The Players, Dr Leonard A. Rubinstein infuses the character with the heart and soul that we all expect from Tevya. Many and varied actors have taken on the role, including Leonard Nimoy in the 70’s, and Topol himself in a farewell tour last year after a record-breaking run, but this Tevya is completely satisfying.

Bea Arthur was the first to play Tevya’s wife Golda, in her own inimitable style. In this version, Nancy Apatow’s Golda is the perfect mate for Rubinstein’s Tevya, with her flawless comic timing and wily way of deferring to her husband, without bowing to him.

The three older daughters are played by Libby Fleming - an enchanting Tzeitel (Bette Midler made her Broadway debut in this role), Georgie Landy as Hodel, and Erin Weinberger as Chava. Three young actresses to watch. Betty Silberman is Yenta the matchmaker, complete with the mannerisms that make the busybody such a great character.

Motel the tailor is portrayed in suitable fashion by Steve Jaquith, and if I weren’t already sitting up and taking notice, Rafael Petlock in the role as Perchik would have done the trick.

And then there is the somewhat clangorous dream sequence which could surely get attention from miles around. Loryn Haber plays a truly over-the-top Fruma-Sarah come chaotically to life. Kleinberg says that at first they thought they might use a Segway - when that was ruled out, they built a tower that the actress could crawl into, with a fellow actor inside getting exhausted rolling her around the stage.

The portrayal of the mute fiddler by Westie McClay - from balancing on the roof at the start, to following Tevya out of Anatevka at the end, lends a poignant counterpoint to the commotion.

The set design is of the highest calibre – the fiddler really fiddles on the roof, the rustically pretty house frame swivels smoothly around, and wheels on and off stage unobtrusively.

And, perhaps most crucially, the live orchestra in the pit does great justice to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s unforgettable music.

The production has been so well received that its original 2 week run was extended to April 3rd.

Kleinberg says: “The result that we wanted on the stage was one that focused on of tradition, love of community, love of family. I think we achieved that.” They certainly did. That love was palpable at The Players theatre last night.

I went reluctantly to see this play, leery of having one of my favorite childhood memories spoiled. As it is, my love has been renewed.

To the director, the cast, the entire crew, and to The Players, I say - Bravo!


P.S: It's useless to try and get the song out of your head, just go with it!


  1. Wonderful review, CA. I wonder if, perchance, all fathers are enamored of the song "If I Were A Rich Man"? My Dad also enjoyed singing it and mugging Mostel-style. My own personal favorite is "Do you love me? Do I WHAAAT?--though, when I stop to think about it, there are many contenders for top slot!

  2. What a great review! Fiddler was one of the first shows I saw as a child. Thanks for all the inside information, including all those actors who made their debuts in this musical.

    RA - I am sure most fathers did enjoy the number "If I Were a Rich Man" just as I am sure that many of them got a lump in their throat hearing "Sunrise, Sunset!"

  3. I remember sitting on the living room floor in grandpa and granny's living room watching "Fiddler" while you and grandpa sang along - it was wonderful to share the experience of seeing the Players Theatre version with you so many years and worlds later. Grandpa would have loved it!


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