AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Book by Joseph Stein
Based on stories by Sholom Aleichem
Directed by Dan Demers
Presented by Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA / (650) 349-6411

Reviewed by Judy Richter

While not a holiday show in the usual sense, Hillbarn Theatre's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" nevertheless is a wonderful gift for the season.

This 51-year-old musical, a perennial favorite around the world, is full of memorable music by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Equally important, its book by Joseph Stein, based on stories by Sholom Aleichem, never fails to elicit laughter and tears.

It's set in 1905 in the tiny Jewish village of Anatevka, Russia, where its residents have lived for generations. As the opening number explains, "Tradition" binds them together and rules their everyday lives.

But it's a new century, and ongoing changes will soon adversely affect the villagers' way of life, uprooting and scattering them.

On a more personal level, though, change is affecting the family of Tevye (John-Elliott Kirk), an impoverished milkman, and his wife, Golde (Michelle Greenberg-Shannon). They have five daughters, three of them old enough to be married.

Because there will be no dowry, Tevye and Golde must depend on Yente (Darlene Batchelder), the village matchmaker, to find husbands for their girls. The girls turn out to have other ideas.

First, the eldest, Tzeitel (Jessica Maxey), prevails upon Tevye to allow her to marry Motel (Burton Thomas), a poor but caring tailor, rather than Lazar Wolf (Bob Weisman), the wealthy but much older butcher to whom Tevye has promised her. Once she convinces Tevye that she'll be happy only by marrying Motel, Tevye cooks up a fantastical dream to win Golde's assent.

The next daughter, Hodel (Rachel Share-Sapolsky), pushes against tradition even harder, telling Tevye that she loves Perchik (Jon Toussaint), a student with radical ideas, and will follow him to Kiev to be married. Again, Tevye reluctantly consents.

He draws the line when Chava (LeighAnn Cannon) goes behind his back and outside the faith to marry Fyedka (Russell Mangan), a Russian soldier, in a ceremony conducted by the local priest.

All of these events transpire to the tune of exuberant songs like "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "To Life," "Miracle of Miracles" and "Wedding Dance."

Then there are the touching "Sabbath Prayer," "Sunrise, Sunset," "Far From the Home I Love," "Chavaleh" and "Anatevka." The show opens and closes with the Fiddler (15-year-old Nicholas Garland) quietly playing the opening strains of "Tradition" while seated on a rooftop.

Director Dan Demers, Hillbarn's executive artistic director, and his artistic team stage the show with a careful eye to detail. All of the performers in this large cast are fully involved.

Costumes by Pam Lampkin reflect each character's social status, right down to the men's scuffed boots and Tevye's milk-stained apron. Jayne Zaban has reproduced the original Tony-winning choreography by Jerome Robbins.

Musical director Rick Reynolds conducts the 17-member orchestra (seated on a concealed platform on stage) and the singers. Most of the singing is excellent, whether solo, ensemble or full chorus.

The show is anchored by Kirk's Tevye. His singing, acting and dancing are all praiseworthy. Other fine singing comes from Greenberg-Shannon as Golde along with Maxey as Tzeitel, Share-Sapolsky as Hodel and Cannon as Chava. All of the other singers are adequate or better.

Kuo-Hao Lo keeps the set simple to accommodate numerous scene changes. Lighting by Joseph Mendoza and sound by Alan Chang also enhance the show.

Running just under three hours with one intermission, this production shows why "Fiddler'" retains its appeal whether one is seeing it for the first or umpteenth time.

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