Fiddler on the Roof

The Little London Dinner Theater’s small performance space may have finally caught up with it.

After pulling of big-sized shows like “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Noises Off,” the current production of “Fiddler on the Roof” seems to suffer from claustrophobia.

It is not a show that one pictures as requiring a lot of space — until you see the dream sequence, the wedding scene and “To Life” pared down in scope like they are here and remember how much larger they ought to be.

It’s possible the scaling-down was a choice by director Bob Manning; the black, stark set would seem to complement that idea of simplicity. But the result is that no musical number is any bigger or more memorable than any other. All of them are nice, but none stands out. The show plugs along from one scene to the next, songs are sung with fervor, and we move on.

Ken Olsen is fantastic as Tevye, the old-fashioned dairyman whose Russian village is becoming modern before his eyes. Tevye’s relationship with God is particularly poignant here, and Olsen’s interaction with Kaye Woodworth as his wife Golde is beautiful. The “Do You Love Me?” number is lovely — a case where the show is well-served by its simplicity.

The always-vivacious Lesli Manning is, well, vivacious as Yente the matchmaker. She expertly hugs the line between charm and caricature.

The rest of the cast is just as charismatic, with varying degrees of proficiency. Cassy Anderson, Brittany Thompson and Erica Glenn play Tevye’s oldest daughters, with Seth Child, Aaron Spjute and Nate Hoffman as their respective suitors.

The wry, bleak humor of the show — another thing you tend to forget when you think about “Fiddler” — is in full force, and has never been more pleasant. (“I have something to say to you,” Golde tells Tevye. “Why should today be any different?” he replies.)

One more thing: I question the random use of props. Some are pantomimed, while others are literal, often in the same scene. At the wedding, imaginary goose pillows are brought out, followed by real candlesticks. Someone has a liquor bottle, but the glasses are pretend. It’s jarring, and it consistently drew me out of the show. Abstraction is fine (though it would be risky for a show as reality-based as this one), but not when it’s done haphazardly.

There is no lack of effort in the show, and the final product is entertaining. The criticisms expressed here are from the standpoint of someone who, like most of the audience, has seen this show before. The production overcomes some of its obstacles, but stumbles at others.

Should you go? There is nothing new for “Fiddler” fans to latch onto, but the characters are vividly played and the show’s beautiful message comes through nicely.

With this review, we began a new system of grading: no grades. The "should you go?" thing at the end of the review was an attempt to be more accurate. Letter grades, while granting more freedom than the four-star system, are still limiting. They are also hindered by people's personal feelings about grades. Those who got a lot of A's in school see a B grade as not very good, while C students think B is great.

So I started writing the summary sentences that would tell people, in a nutshell, what was good and bad about the whole thing, and whether they should bother with it. The letter grades remain on this Web site for statistical purposes, and because I'm too obsessive-compulsive to stop doing them entirely. But in the Daily Herald, they are no more.