Theatre Thursdays: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at the Pittsburgh CLO

This past Sunday I had the great pleasure of seeing Fiddler on the Roof performed at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh PA. I have long loved this musical thanks to the spectacular film and as such was thrilled to finally get a chance to see the show live.

The curtain for the show was a painting of the town of Anatevka (the setting of the show) done in a style which reminded me somewhat of Marc Chagall’s which I found very appropriate since I’ve thought his works should be used as the poster art of the show ever since I learned about him. The theater was packed and the audience was very receptive. They were quick to laugh and applaud and that’s always nice and adds to the enjoyment of the show. Not that this show needed any help, however. The show was a joy from beginning to end and the Pittsburgh CLO once again proved itself a top-notch theatre group.

 

Lewis J. Stadlen played Tevye and had a great stage presence. He was hilarious and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. The only criticism I can raise against his performance is that his emphasis on the comedy was so strong that the sincerity didn’t always show through which is so important to the role. Tevye’s love needs to be genuine and deep because as trite as this may sound, this show really is about love and throughout the story love is tried and challenged and at some points nearly broken. That is what makes this show so wonderful. This family grows and changes so significantly because of their romantic love for others and familial love for each other and never once does this seem hokey or forced.

The show is actually fairly feminist. For those unfamiliar with the story, Tevye has five daughters, the oldest three of whom are reaching marrying age.

Each of these three daughters challenge tradition and their patriarchal society, becoming stronger and more independent as they grow and learn. Granted, they do so in their choices of which man to marry and as such they may not exactly be shining examples of feminist ideals, but they are women who are fighting for their autonomy against the pressures of society and (in the context of the story) they were being quite revolutionary so I personally think they are admirable women of strength.

Another thing I love about this show is the religion. The majority of the characters are Jewish and their faith is very important to them. I always loved the way Tevye related to God, whom he addresses as a friend. He regularly converses with God which I find so admirable and refreshing. That kind of relationship with God isn’t usually represented. He talks to God, he complains, he thanks, and he jokes. I would hesitate to call his relationship with God casual because he is certainly respectful, but it’s not such a pious, regulated relationship as is often portrayed.

As I mentioned, in this show love is tried and tested and it’s especially clear in the love between Tevye and his daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava. Each daughter challenges him more than the last in who she wants to marry and how she wants to do it. (Tzeitel picks her own husband, rejecting the man given by the matchmaker, but at least asks Tevye’s permission; Hodel picks a revolutionary student and doesn’t even request Tevye’s permission but hopes for his blessing; and finally Chava picks a man of another faith) Tevye learns to let go of many of his long-held prejudices and think critically about his own beliefs for the first time. He also learns where his breaking point is, as he struggles with some of his daughters’ choices.

The Pittsburgh CLO production portrayed these important issues beautifully and every cast member was excellent. My personal favorites were David Perlman as Motel (Tzeitel’s fiance) and Nick Verina as Perchik (Hodel’s fiance). Perlman was just plain funny and appealing. Motel’s a great character to play, starting off as a somewhat gutless comic relief but becoming stronger and braver thanks to Tzeitel and Perlman did a great job in his scenes. Perchik never stood out to me much in the film but seemed so much more important to the story in the play and I think at least part of that was thanks to Nick Verina’s performance. He was clearly bright and passionate and reminded me strongly of Enjolras from Les Miserables. Verina had a fire that made him seem important in every scene he was in.

I highly recommend this show. Its depiction of family, friendship, love, faith, and religion are fantastic. The Pittsburgh CLO production has closed but any time you can see this show you should really take the chance, I’m glad I got to see such a good production, but I’m even more glad just to have seen the show.

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