Fiddler on the Roof

Sundance’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” pulls off the feat of being a traditional, non-flashy staging of the familiar show, while simultaneously being broadly acted and crowd-pleasing, keeping the emotions close to the surface.

Largely responsible for this is Michael Rupert as Tevye, the poor Jewish dairyman in turn-of-the-century Russia who tryies to cling to his traditions even while the world around his small village is changing. Rupert never lets us forget for a moment that he is PERFORMING, speaking almost every one of his lines (especially the jokes) directly to the audience in a wry, self-aware, almost smug mannger.

To his credit, he squeezes laughs out of lines that are written funny but that don’t often get laughs; the problem is, he often squeezes too hard. He holds the audience in the palm of his hand. Whether his methods of doing that are honest, from a theatrical standpoint, is another matter, but perhaps an irrelevant one. The audience loves him; if he had to sacrifice the character’s depth and realism to get there, so be it.

The cast is a combination of professional and amateur actors (though all are being paid for their work), and some of the non-pros outshine their Actors’ Equity Association counterparts. Dianna Graham as oldest daughter Tzeitel, for example, shows an obvious knack for performing, even in subtle things like her part in the “Matchmaker” song. Her subtlety is a rare commodity in this show, especially when contrasted with Joan Barber as Golde, her mother, who hollers everything and doesn’t even TRY to do an accent.

Jennifer C. Ballif and Katie Redford Luther are also quite good as Tzeitel’s younger sisters. The girls’ suitors, Motel (Ary Farahnakian), Perchik (Steven Fales) and Fyedka (Jason Celaya), are well-cast, keenly conveying the characters’ respective attitudes and goals. Motel does seem a bit hyperactively goofy, but it’s kind of endearing.

The choreography by Peter Anastos is fantastic, expertly combining modern musical-theater movement with traditional Jewish dancing. Ryan T. Murphy’s musical direction also aids immeasurably to the show’s energy.

Long-time fans of the show may wish for a little more emotion and intimacy. But first-timers will be pleased with the show’s slickness and its clear (and mostly successful) desire to win over the audience completely.

Dianna Graham is the former Dianna Errico, who appeared in several shows I reviewed before this one. Evidently she got married or something.

This was the third production of "Fiddler on the Roof" I'd seen within five weeks. Is that too many? Yes. Should Utah lay off the "Fiddler" for a while? Yes. Will Utah? No.

Sitting behind me at this show was an entire family, with about five kids in their teens. During intermission, I heard the dad say, "I love plays. You know, I don't think I've ever seen a play I didn't like." This begins to explain why I get angry letters whenever I write a negative review (which this is, by the way, though I kind of veiled it): There actually are people out there who like every single thing they see.