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THEATER REVIEW: “Fiddler On The Roof” at Lamb’s Players

If you’ve ever wondered just how popular “Fiddler On The Roof” is, consider that Lamb’s Players Theatre extended the current run of the show twice before it opened.

The 1964 musical favorite is now open and running through July 14. Robert and Deborah Gilmour Smyth share directorial responsibilities.

Based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories about milkman Tevye, his wife Golde and their five daughters in turn-of-the-20th-century Russian shtetl of Anatevka, “Fiddler” boasts a cast of fascinating characters, a fine book by Joseph Stein and some of the musical comedy world’s most beloved songs by Jerry Bock (with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick).

The Smyths have decided on a klezmer sound from their band of six. That style, originating with Eastern European Jews in the 19th century, fits well with the plot and characters of “Fiddler,” and is particularly soulfully played by Stephanie Schmitz (clarinet), Melissa Mejia (trumpet), cello (Diana Elledge) and violin (Ernest Sauceda, also seen as the roof-balancing Fiddler).

The band is onstage throughout, ranged across an upstage platform. The backdrop is Chagall-inspired, with blue sky, clouds and pyramid-like structures probably meant to be rooftops.

There is no set structure onstage (though there is a suspended rooftop for the Fiddler); rather, set designer Mike Buckley has placed major props like the bed and other furniture under the “bandstand,” from which they are rolled in and out. It’s clever, but the lack of anything to identify time or place on the stage itself may confuse those who don’t know where scenes take place.

But this charming show is about “Tradition” and progress – or at least change from the old ways – and the adventures of Tevye’s three eldest daughters and the men they fall in love with (all a far cry from traditional types) provide the heart of the story.

Tevye (Sam Zeller) wants his girls to marry scholars; Mama (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) is looking for rich mates. But the girls have other ideas. The eldest, Tzeitel (Charlene Koepf) falls for poor tailor Motel (Brandon Joel Maier); Hodel (Caitie Grady) for the radical student Perchik (Charles Evans) and the youngest, Chava (Megan Carmitchel), for (horror of horrors!) the Russian Fyedka (Anton Fero).

What’s a father to do? As Tevye says, “It’s a new world,” one in which the traditional Matchmaker Yente (a miscast Kerry Meads) has no place.

And when the eviction order comes from the sympathetic but politically hamstrung Constable (the always reliable Jason Heil), the residents of Anatevka can do nothing but pack up and leave.

But before the sad loss of place, there is much joy and sadness to share, many lovely songs and some really fine dancing (kudos to choreographer Colleen Kollar Smith).

My favorites in the cast are the girls: Koepf’s Tzeitel, Grady’s Hodel and Carmitchel’s Chava. All are delightful, fine singers and actors, and good foils for their respective husband choices.

Maier’s Motel is diffident and adorable (though he occasionally seemed a bit lost on opening night); Evans’ Perchik comes across as a scrappy, committed radical, and Fero is convincing as the Russian who steals Chava’s heart.

Smyth’s voice is always wonderful to hear, and she has terrific stage presence, though her Golde seemed more angry than harried.

Zeller has some lovely moments, especially in the rousing “To Life!” song and the poignant “Chavala.” But there were some sound problems at the top of the show: he seemed to be shouting when speaking, then singing rather too softly.

This is a huge show – a cast of 30 and six musicians – the second largest ever mounted by this theater. It is almost impossible not to fall in love with this beloved show. I’m guessing by now it has fixed the problems that can be fixed and settled into the quality we have come to expect from Lamb’s.

The details

“Fiddler On The Roof” plays through July 28 at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave, Coronado.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2.

Tickets: (619) 437-6000 or Click HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.