“Tradition” is the first song in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tradition is also at the heart of the show’s theme and message. Tradition is also a dominant factor in the people’s lives in the Russian village of Anatevka.
Tradition is also why people keep going to see “Fiddler on the Roof” whether it’s any good or not.
The SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre’s current production of the show, directed by Jerry Elison, is a big, lumbering beast of a show, with dozens of cast members tromping around the huge stage for nearly three hours. This is a show that should tug at the heartstrings a little, and that should make one feel a little sentimental, but ultimately this production fails to register much emotion at all.
Perhaps it was the rainy weather that dampened the spirits of the cast members the night I saw the show, but everyone seemed to be merely trudging through it. Even in the big dance numbers (“Tradition,” “To Life,” the wedding scene), dancers were stone-faced as they muddled through their clunky choreography, often embarrassingly out of step with each other. The choreography itself is pretty good — the dancers just need to show some enthusiasm while performing it. Smile a little, for crying out loud!
The show is not without its plusses. Neal Barth truly does bring Tevye to life, one of only a handful of cast members to really show much zeal for his part. He carries the show, with help from Syd Riggs as his wife, Golde. Their “Do You Love Me?” song is one of the few scenes that really connects emotionally with the audience.
“The Dream” is a fast-paced, crazy scene that demonstrates how good the show could have been if only that energy had been consistent throughout the whole production. The same goes for when the wedding threatens to turn into “The Jerry Springer Show,” with Tevye and Lazer Wolf (Bart Schaerrer) arguing over brides and chickens, and the whole town taking sides. You start to think, “Hey, NOW things are picking up!” — and then the show falls back into its rut again with another big, slow-moving dance number.
The three daughters (Katy Worlton, Angela Boyle and Alisa Green) show promise with their first song, “Matchmaker,” singing beautifully and with energy. But as they get bogged down with their various boyfriends and, eventually, husbands, their characters fade away and the audience stops caring about them. Tzeitel (Worlton) and Motel (Robinson Duffy) get one very nice scene together with “Miracle of Miracles,” and Tevye’s train station farewell with Hodel (Boyle) is sweet, but that’s about it. Everything else is just activity, just business, just movement and words, with precious little passion.
Pacing is a problem here. The time between scenes could be cut down — perhaps it will be as the show continues its run and the kinks gets worked out — but things could move a little quicker DURING the scenes, too. The show just seems so lifeless. Again, it could be the weather.
It doesn’t matter why, in the end. “Fiddler on the Roof” is such a well known and well loved show, people will see it anyway.
Can you sense my feeling of futility here? "Fiddler on the Roof" was not a very good show at all, and I said that in the review -- but I knew people were going to go see it anyway. Why? Because it's the SCERA Outdoor Theatre and it's fun! Why? Because it's "Fiddler" and it's fun! Why? Because we're mindless sheep who don't care if a show is actually GOOD or not, we just want to go, and then we'll never admit to our dying day that the show we just watched was bad, because we're too afraid to express our opinions if they're negative, and it's fun!
I can safely say that of all the plays I'd seen for the Daily Herald to this point, none were as big an ordeal for me as this was. Not because the show wasn't so good -- I've certainly seen worse, and this one had its nice moments -- but because of the weather. It began raining almost immediately. It stopped after a while, but then I was soaked, and I was wearing jeans, which don't dry very fast. So I spent the rest of the time being wet, and getting even wetter when it started raining again. And then the play was almost three hours long, and by the end, my toes were numb, my knees were sore (a touch of lumbago, I think), and I was shivering. It was difficult to separate my own personal discomfort from my feelings toward the show, but I think I did it.