"Fiddler on the Roof" is a terrific theatre piece. Tuesday night’s audience at the IU Auditorium gave the visiting production a standing ovation. The star was Theodore Bikel as Tevye, the philosophical milkman. Bikel has played Tevye hundreds of times in many productions and he knows the richness of the part so thoroughly that he can play it the way a jazz musician plays a standard tune. Anyone who was still sitting during the applause at the curtain call, stood up when he returned to the stage to join the cast for final bows.
The portrayal of the poor little Russian village of Anatevka in the throes of internal growth and change and the external struggles leading up to the Russian Revolution is a touching story. Anatevka may be poor, but "Fiddler…" is full of rich characters and situations. I especially enjoyed the work of Maureen Silliman as Tevye’s much put upon wife and Mimi Bensinger as the energetic village matchmaker. Michael Iannucci was special as the shy tailor Motel. Jonathan Hadley played the young student revolutionary, Perchik. Eileen Tepper, Sara Schmidt and Rachel Jones were both the pride and the trial of Papa Tevye as his doweryless daughters. The visiting production boasts a big strong cast. Everyone acts, sings and dances with real skill and commitment.
The visiting production is blessed with a full orchestra, more than twenty players. It took the technical crew a while to work out balances between leads, chorus and orchestra on Tuesday night. Tonight and Thursday night’s audiences will reap the full rewards of the practice.
"Fiddler on the Roof" is a rich source of drama, humor and real philosophy for dealing with difficult and challenging times. The community of Anatevka and its shared history and values are overturned, ripped apart and displaced. Tevye’s family and its values are tried, challenged and revised. But despite all this, there is energy to go forward to new things and the show’s final gesture has Tevye inviting "the fiddler," the symbol of tradition, to join the exodus and be a part of the future.
"Fiddler on the Roof" with Theodore Bikel plays tonight and Thursday night at eight at the IU Auditorium.