Sometime before Frosh week the organizing committee called my home and my mother picked up. She answered their question then said, “We’re Jewish. Will my son fit in at St. Michael’s College?”
Almost four years later, the students of St. Mike’s produce Fiddler on the Roof, the classic Broadway musical about Jewish life in Russia before the revolution. It’s self-consciously Jewish, devised by Jewish writers and composers, and for a mostly Jewish cast. There’s no doubt that it’s an ambitious project; for a college like St. Mike’s, Fiddler is as culturally foreign and challenging as Dreamgirls might be (noting that, in both cases, there are some students who are Jewish or black, but not a lot, and that some of the performers come from outside the college).
But do they succeed?
Sort of. Fiddler on the Roof should be a funny show, a beautiful show, and a powerful show.
This cast is funny.
Both of the ghosts, played by Lanndis De Lallo and Maddy Foley, are the most spot-on. Ben Tremblay as Lazar Wolf is a revelation – a rare actor who can play a much older man, and in a musical to boot. Michael Bazzocchi shines as Tevye, the wise fool and the spiritual anchor of the show. His timing is good and his voice is strong, but his accent is terrible.
Actually, all the accents are terrible. It’s not clear why a handful of the people in Anatevka speak English with Russian accents while the rest do without; the actors would do best in their natural voices. A lot of jokes are lost to perplexing inflections and lilting syllables.
And while we’re on the topic of vocal coaching: It’s Tzeidel, not Zeidel; and Chava, not Hava. Also, Rifka and Mirele are women’s names, but you make do with what you have.
Is it beautiful?
Even Jerry Robbins, the original director and choreographer, struggled to attach movement to Fiddler, so it’s no surprise that lesser geniuses have difficulties. In this case, Shak Haq’s choreography is contrived, unpleasant, overly demanding of its amateur cast, and unnecessary.
But the musical demands aren’t too strong (they can’t be if Harvey Fierstein’s been in it) and the cast is capable. My favourite songs, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “Far from the Home I Love” were both delivered with a polished sheen, which made me very happy.
As for the power?
The power of Fiddler on the Roof comes from its goofiness. In true Jewish form, even the lightest joke hides dread, and every peaceful moment is cast in the shadow of some impending menace. This cast excels at finding the dark in the funny and the funny in the dark. The Cossacks are suitably intimidating, Perchik (Joe Loreto) is adequately obstinate, and Tevye is wonderfully aware of the dangers and beauties of his little world.