SALT LAKE CITY — I read somewhere that there are, on average, over 500 productions of Fiddler On the Roof throughout the world every year. Since its debut in 1964, it has been a popular play in community and professional theatre alike. Having seen and performed in productions of this show, I was very excited to attend Pioneer Theatre’s production and see how they would interpret this classic written by Joseph Stein, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Director Karen Azenberg shared in her director’s notes some personal connections that she had to the story of Anatevka, and the love of her grandfather and his heritage certainly came through in this production.
The first thing I noticed, as always with Pioneer Theatre’s team, was the wonderful set. Set designer George Maxwell developed a great visual of the town of Anatevka, and I enjoyed all the little details, especially the mezuzah that was placed on each home door. I was glad to see the amount of respect that was paid to the Jewish faith, and how the traditions were brought in to not only the acting, but also the set pieces and the costuming. Costume designer Carol Wells-Day and hair and makeup designer Amanda French also kept with the traditional attire and hair in a way that was very respectful, while also being beautiful and adding to the nice visual of the entire show.
The music, directed by Helen Gregory, was also one of my favorite things of this production. The live orchestra is always one of my favorite parts of productions of this scale, and Gregory’s direction drew out instruments that I had not expected, but brought a richness and depth to the show. Of course, the fiddler has a strong part on stage, and this part was played masterfully by Zachary Brown, a young and talented actor and musician who captivated the audience by his melodies and his presence.
While the players all were quite talented and performed well, I found that the show never quite reached the level I had expected or hoped. It was difficult for me to put my finger on my thoughts, but in the end, I guess it seemed that some of the actors were playing up unexpected stereotypes. Yente, played by Eleanor Reissa, and Tevye, played by Michael Thomas Holmes, seemed to be putting a Brooklyn spin to their characters, while a few of the others had a more European feel. I felt a bit of a disconnect between the performances because of this, and would have enjoyed it a bit more if there had been more consistency. In addition, Fiddler is a vehicle that lends itself to the shining of the male performers. However, the performances of Tevye and most of the male characters were understated in comparison with the female characters. I found myself wanting to be attached to Tevye during “If I were a Rich Man?”, an iconic and well loved song, but never really felt connected to his character. While Holmes’s portrayal was good, it was not as touching as other performances of Tevye that I have seen.
Tia Speros was wonderful as Golde. I found myself having a stronger feeling of empathy for the character, a mother who really wants her growing daughters to be blessed, cared for, and protected, while also trying to care for and understand a husband who tries to lead the family through a difficult life. During the duet “Do You Love Me?” I felt the emotion that Golde must have felt as a woman who took care of a family for 25 years without exploring or expressing her feelings. In addition, I really enjoyed the performance of the second daughter, Hodel, played by Nadia Vynnytsky. In the second act, Hodel sings a song called “Far From the Home I Love,” and the emotion that Vynnytsky put into that song was touching and heartwarming.
Overall, it was a beautiful production, and serves as a excellent reminder of the struggle that we as humans go through as we learn to balance the traditions that matter to us with the people we love and the inevitable changes that we all face.