AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Based on Sholem Aleichem stories
by special permission of Arnold Perl
Directed by Bruce Lumpkin
Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA
Playing now through July 18, 2010
Box Office: (215) 574-3550

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Walnut Street Theatre is now presenting one of the best written musicals to ever grace the stage, Bock and Harnick's "Fiddler on the Roof." The book by Joseph Stein is so superb that it is never dull to revisit this show time and time again. Woven together from three stories by Sholem Aleichem it traces the family of Tevye, a poor milkman working in Tsarist Russia in the tiny shtetl of Anatevka. But the core of this show is about "tradition" and how one man must adapt to the changing world around him.

Our hero is Tevye, a milkman so poor that since his horse has gone lame he must pull his milk cart himself. Tevye has a wife and five daughters, three of marrying age: Tzeitel, Chava and Hodel. In this rural village marriages are most often arranged by the local matchmaker, Yenta. Yenta has found a nice rich old butcher for eldest daughter Tzeitel, but she is in love with the poor, young tailor, Motel. Tzeitel convinces her father That she must be allowed to marry the man she loves. Tevye relents and breaks for the first time with tradition. Then Hodel's heart is taken by a young student, new to the village, Perchik. When Perchik is sent to Siberia Hodel follows him and Tevye lets her go, once again breaking with his hard held beliefs. But when Chava wants to marry a Russian soldier who is not Jewish, it is too much for Tevye to bear.

What can one say about the score except that it has great songs like, Far From the Home I Love, Matchmaker, Sunrise, Sunset, Miracle of Miracles, and of course, If I Were a Rich Man. All songs that, if you don't know them already, you will be singing them on the way home.

Mark Jacoby is a fine Tevye, singing the role probably better than anyone I've ever heard. His conversations with God, which thread the show together are wry and comical, heartfelt and poignant. Bill Van Horn as Lazar Wolf, the butcher is stellar. Nick Dalton turns Perchik, a Talmudic scholar into a heart-throb. Denise Whelan as Yenta, gets all the mileage she can out of every joke and seemed to be the only one to be employing a Middle European accent. Mary Martello is completely naturalistic as Tevye's long suffering wife, Golde. Marcus Stevens is endearing as the timid tailor, Motel and Gianna Yanelli as Hodel does a fine job. But the roles of Tzeitel and Chava seem to be cast much too young.

The set (designed by John Farrell) by Walnut Street standards is quite minimalist and works well for the amount of people that need to be on stage at any given time. The choreography by Michelle Gaudette follows the dictates laid down by Jerome Robbins and consequently never seems too stagy, but rather natural to the characters.

It is a lovely, heartwarming production, one that people of all ages can enjoy and certainly worth catching on one of these hot summer evenings.

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