Review: Cinnabar Theater opens its 42nd season with a touching Fiddler on the Roof, celebrating beloved musical’s the 50th anniversary—extended twice, closes September 28, 2014
There are many gaps in my cultural exposure and the musical, Fiddler on the Roof was one of them—until I saw Cinnabar Theater’s opening night (September 6) performance, which had me and an enthusiastic audience humming, clapping, and tearing up throughout. What better way for Cinnabar to kick off its 42 season than by celebrating the 50th anniversary of this beloved musical whose poignant story about embracing change is captured in the swirl of dance and glorious song. Directed by John Shillington, choreographed by Joseph Favalora, with music direction by Mary Chun, this is a big-hearted production that celebrates what Cinnabar excels at—talented actors making a human connection so palpable it feels like they’re doing it especially for you.
The story centers on Tevye, father of five strong-willed daughters, who is struggling to maintain his family’s Jewish traditions in the tiny shtetl (village) of Anatevka which, in 1905, begins to reel as Tsar Nicholas II’s anti-Jewish propaganda campaign spreads and begins to incite fear and hatred of Jews, even in the far corners of the Imperial Russian empire. Stephen Walsh, who wowed Cinnabar audiences in last November’s hit, La Cage aux Folles, plays Papa Tevye with Cinnabar’s own Elly Lichenstein (Artistic Director) as Golde, his wife. Their on stage chemistry is palpable and they each play their roles with emotional conviction and good-hearted humor. It was nice to hear Lichenstein, a formally-trained opera singer, singing again and embracing a pretty decent and consistent Yiddish accent. She had the audiences in stitches in the scene where the couple is in bed and Tevye relates his frightening dream to her. “This role has enormous personal significance for me,” said Lichenstein. “All four of my grandparents came to America from villages like Anatevka, and it excites me that our magnificent cast is so committed to tell their story.”
In Walsh’s hands, the milkman Tevye is a warm-hearted father, steeped in faith and tradition, who only wants the best for his daughters, each of whom challenge his notions of what is right. Is it following tradition and marrying them off to men of means, picked by a matchmaker, who can provide for them financially and offer them security, or, is it letting them pick the men they love, who inspire them and make them happy?
As the story progresses, Tevye becomes concerned not only that his daughters are falling in love with poor men, but that they are stepping away from their faith. In one of his many dialogs with God and his conscience he reflects on his struggle to accept the men they have chosen.
“Accept them?” How can I accept them?” Tevye groans. “Can I deny my own child? If I try to bend that far, I will break. On the other hand, there is no other hand.”
The daughters are all delightful in their feisty and independent search for love and meaning in their lives—Jennifer Mitchell is Tzeitel, the eldest, who wants to marry a poor tailor instead of an aged butcher. Molly Mahoney is Hodel, who falls for a Bolshevik who would take her far from Anatevka. Erin Asha is Chava, who falls in love with a non-Jew. Lucy London is Bielke and Megan Fleischmann is Shprintze. The roles of their suitors are played by equally talented young men.
The action is set against another of Fiddler‘s delights—its marvelous set by Joe Elwich who has masterfully re-purposed the gorgeous salvage lumber from last season’s “Of Mice and Men” into a modest rustic village which frames the small stage. The fiddler, talented violinist Tyler Lewis, sits atop a small sloping roof, quite close to the off-stage orchestra and serenades gloriously throughout. The peasants’ rich spiritual lives are reflected in their costumes which take on a life of their own in several moving dance scenes. Each of the 40-odd costumes is unique and all designed by Cinnabar’s fabric wizard, Julia Hunstein Kwitchoff.
The original Broadway incarnation of this beloved musical racked up an astonishing 10 Tony Awards by introducing unforgettable songs like “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” Music is by Jerry Brock, lyrics by Serldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. Cinnabar’s small orchestra, under Mary Chun’s capable direction, brought great energy to the production. Clarinetist Larry Lipman’s haunting solos were played beautifully throughout.
As I watched Fiddler unfold, I couldn’t keep from thinking how relevant this musical is today. Religious conflict is prevalent in so much of the world and has created such upheaval that entire populations are still being forced to leave their homeland. And family dynamics are reeling and shifting constantly. Parents everywhere are struggling to accept their children’s choices which are different from those they would make. Many Americans are intensely proud that they can trace their heritage to villages like Anatevka and they can personally relate to the sadness and plight of the villagers who are forced to leave. Cinnabar’s engaging production, with its strong emotional core, brings out the many facets of this timeless story about the bittersweet evolution of family life.
On Sunday, September 21, Cinnabar offers a special performance and party (long sold-out) commemorating the day the musical first opened on Broadway.
Details: Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA. There is ample parking on the lot at the crest of the hill, just feet from the entrance. Fiddler on the Roof has been extended twice and there are10 remaining performances. There are a few available seats for these—Thursday, September 25th (8 PM), Friday 26th (8 PM), Saturday 27th (2 PM and 8 PM), Sunday 28th (2 PM) Tickets: $35 General, $25 under age 22, $9 middle-school and high-school. Buy tickets online here or call the box office at 707-763-8920 between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on weekdays. Last minute: Occasionally, there are “no shows” and if you arrive at the theater 30 minutes prior to a show, you might be able to get a seat. Arrive early for all performances as all seating is general seating, save for opening night, where the house saves seats for subscribers.
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