There is no successful production of “Fiddler on the Roof” without an actor who can handle the main character, Tevye, a Jew with a wife and five daughters trying to keep his faith and family tradition during changing times.
Sunset’s latest production has found the perfect Tevye in Rick Richter, a veteran local actor who had played the role some years ago for another area group. He was wonderful then and is even better now. Richter’s Tevye is wiser and wittier, more comfortable, though questioning his lot in life.
I’ve seen “Fiddler” several times and never has an audience responded to Tevye as this one did. There was an undercurrent of sound when the audience anticipated Tevye’s anger at a daughter’s insolence or other issues that tested his hold on tradition.
And tradition is what “Fiddler” is all about. The year is 1905 when the show opens and the place is Anatevka, a small village in Russia. The village of mostly poor Jews is happy to keep its modest existence and traditions but the czar has other plans, as does an outside world tugging at time-honored conventions. Tevye is relatable, even today as people journey through a time of conflict and change in family life and the world around them.
The opening song lays the groundwork as well as any musical. The theme of “tradition” is sung for each family member: The Papa, The Mama, The Daughter, The Son.
The story follows Tevye, a milkman, and his family around the time his eldest three daughters become old enough to marry. Tevye and his wife Golde (Susan Loveridege) still live in a time of arranged marriages, separation of men and women, the papa being the head of the family. But, as Golde says, “It’s a new world.”
“He loves her. Love … it’s a new style,” mocks Tevye when his daughter Tzeitel (Katie Katschke) wants to marry the poor tailor Motel (Derrick Karas), rather than the wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf (Mark Batory) whom the Matchmaker (Coleen Tutton) has selected for her.
One by one, Tevye and Golde’s daughters test their parents’ resilience to change. Hodel (Morgen Aria Clarey) has taken a shine to a scholar, Perchik, who has big plans to change the world. He calls money “the world’s curse,” to which Tevye replies, “Then may the Lord smite me with it.”
In Act II, we see his daughter Chava (Madeleine Keane) taking up with the Russian soldier Fyedka (Danny Slattery), a Christian. While Tevye finally came around to accepting nontraditional engagements of his two eldest daughters, Chava has put him over the edge. As he tries to weigh both her and his own points of view, he recites the points, prefacing each with “on the other hand.” But after a while he angrily admits to himself, “There is no other hand!”
The family is tested one last time when the little village is confronted by authorities and must cope with the biggest change of all.
Under the direction of Diana Alioto, this “Fiddler” has a great sense of hopefulness, rather than the sense of doom that can pervade Act II. Much of that has to do with Richter, who plays Tevye with strength, yet vulnerability, but always conveying that his faith and family will see him through. There is a gruffness to his Tevye, yet he shows such tenderness to his family. His musings with his Maker are most amusing, plus his grumblings, well-timed asides and gestures communicate volumes about his most-relatable character.
Loveridge’s Golde is nicely done, especially in the sweet, heartfelt “Do You Love Me?” with Richter’s Tevye, who also delivers a smooth, delightful “If I Were a Rich Man.”
Tutton is wonderful as the meddling Matchmaker Yente, who in rapid-fire conversations asks and answers her own questions in the same breath.
Santana Vannarath’s Bottle Dance sequence is a highlight, but would have been even more impressive with several dancers joining him.
Besides the opening, there are several wonderful scenes, including The Dream, which is nicely staged with the animated ghost of Lazar Wolf’s wife (Joanne Treinen Clarey, Morgen’s mom) putting an exclamation point on the segment.
Musically, this isn’t a particularly strong cast of individuals, except for Katschke, Clarey and Keane, who really do a nice job with “Matchmaker,” displaying their pure voices. Keane also demonstrates some lovely balletic skills in “Little Bird.”
Ensemble numbers are full and pleasing, especially “Sunrise, Sunset.” Music director Mark Mrozek, who also handles keyboards, gets a lot of sound from the small orchestra, yet always allows vocalists —and Jerry Bock’s music and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics — to be clearly heard.
Choreographer Nancy Visintainer-Armstrong and dance captain Emily Pieper have created some simple, yet effective, routines, while Joanne Cunningham’s costumes are also nicely done, though some of the men’s beards on opening night looked about as real as a three-dollar bill.
Nick Korneski’s set is bathed in golden tones, with simple wood structures that work well for all the areas.
If you go
Who: Sunset Playhouse
What: “Fiddler on the Roof”
When: Through Nov. 6
Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove
Info/Tickets: 262-7824430, sunsetplayhouse.com