Theatre 308 delivers a poignant production of "Fiddler on the Roof" to the Darien High School stage this weekend.
The production opens tonight at 8 p.m. with additional performances Friday and Saturday evenings. Tickets are available online and at the door at the DHS Auditorium.
With a cast of 50 players backed by an 18-piece orchestra, the Tony Award-winning musical - which opened on Broadway in 1964 with Jerome Robbins as director and choreographer - proves itself timeless and timely.
The twin themes of social rupture and romantic rapture are delivered in catchy lyrics and sharp choreography under the direction of Theatre 308's Nancy Herman.
Love, Shtetl Style
"Fiddler" is set in 1905 Tsarist Russia in the rural town of Anatevka, a fictional shtetl or heavily Jewish village.
The musical opens with a fiddler playing on a village roof. Portrayed by the versatile Collin Shay, who plays the violin and later dances with a bottle balanced on his head, the fiddler is a metaphor for survival in precarious times through cultural traditions, neighborly good will and community unity.
The story centers on the domestic upheaval within the family of peasant Tevye (played by Kenny Weiss), his wife Golde (Kathleen Cameron) and their five daughters. Three of the daughters are of marriageable age and tradition dictates that Tevye select husbands for them with the help of a matchmaker, Yente (Paris LaRock).
However, each daughter (Marin Amyotte, Mary Elliott and Caroline Vilter) rebels in turn against an arranged marriage, defying tradition to marry for love.
Tevye's girls long, respectively, for the earnest tailor (Kevin Koenitzer as Motel), the educated revolutionary (Alex Rankine as Perchick) and, most disturbingly to Teyve, the dashing young Cossack (Robbie Florian as Fyedka), who rejects his Russian comrades' mistreatment of the Jews.
Beloved, Heartfelt Tunes
Resignedly, Tevye observes, "Love, it's the new style."
This insight leads Tevye to inquire for the first time of his wife of 25 years (whom he met for the first time at their arranged marriage), "Do You Love Me?" Weiss and Cameron deliver an affecting rendition of the endearing duet.
The enduring popularity of the musical can be traced to this and other memorable songs, including "If I Were a Rich Man," "Matchmaker," "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Tradition."
The imaginative lighting and staging, with rusticated buildings opening up to warm period rooms, set off scene after scene of lovely singing, lively dance and sparkling dialogue.
Russian Pogroms, Jewish Exile
"Fiddler" is based on "Tevye and His Daughters" and other short stories written by Sholem Aleichem in Yiddish 100 years ago. The musical's title is taken from a surrealist painting, "The Fiddler" by Marc Chagall, which portrays Eastern European Jewish life.
In "Fiddler," centuries-old traditions are in upheaval due to the Tsar's Manifesto of 1905 and the earlier "May laws, " which expelled Jews from their villages in present-day Ukraine and Poland and restricted the rights of Jews that remained. In the resulting pogroms (anti-Jewish riots), thousands of Jews were killed and displaced. The shtetls were ultimately lost forever to the Holocaust, later in the century.
The "Fiddler" cast delivers convincing yet poignant anthems of community solidarity in the face of impending disaster. Soon the community will be splintered and dissolved in a wave of immigration to the U.S. and elsewhere to escape the persecution.
A wedding scene is disrupted when the village constabulary appears and provokes discord; everything is thrown into disarray and the wedding celebrants flee in all directions. It is a precursor to Anatevka's fate.