Are you there, God? It’s me, Tevye.
That line doesn’t actually appear in PCPA Theaterfest’s latest production, but it wouldn’t seem out of place.
Set in turn-of-the-century Imperial Russia, “Fiddler on the Roof” centers on Tevye, an impoverished Jewish milkman with an intimate relationship with the Almighty. Tevye’s tone is sometimes bemused, sometimes bewildered, but always respectful as he engages in a running dialogue with God.
“It’s true that we are the Chosen People,” he muses in one scene. “But once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
Directed by Roger DeLaurier with choreography by Michael Jenkinson and musical direction by Callum Morris, “Fiddler” takes its inspiration from the stories of Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, adapted by Joseph Stein. The Tony Award-winning score, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, features some of Broadway’s most beloved songs, including “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Matchmatcher, Matchmaker” and “Tradition.”
Tevye (Erik Stein), his wife Golde (Kitty Balay) and their five daughters — Tzeitel (Karin Hendricks, Hodel (Krysta Smith), Chava (Jessica Chanliau), Shprintze (Julia Seibert) and Bielke (Lucy Genge) — eke out a simple existence in the town of Anatevka, circa 1905.
Tevye’s foundation is his faith, particularly the timeless traditions that rule daily life in this community. In Anatevka, children are dutiful, mothers are industrious and fathers always have the final word.
At least, that’s been the case until now.
But as Tevye soon discovers, widespread social changes are coming to his community. Much like the title fiddler, he must either shift to keep his balance, or fall.
Tevye’s first challenge comes when matchmaker Yente (Elizabeth Stuart), shows up at his door with an announcement: Lazar Wolf (Billy Breed), the town butcher, has his eye on Tzietel.
Dad decides that Lazar represents his best chance to give his daughter a comfortable life.
There’s only one problem. Tzeitel has already pledged herself to Motel (Michael Jenkinson), a timid tailor. The lovers beg Tevye to change his mind — and more importantly, Golde’s.
It will take all of Tevye’s cunning and courage to convince his wife to break with tradition.
Tevye’s trials don’t end there, either. Hodel is falling for Perchik (Quinn Mattfeld), a radical student, while Chava has feelings for a Russian soldier, Fyedka (Tony Kupsick).
Meanwhile, civil unrest is sweeping Russia, with violent mobs forcing Jews out of their homes. The town constable (Daniel Russo) warns Tevye that a similar “demonstration” is coming to Anatevka.
It’s enough to prompt the milkman to wonder: “Sometimes I think, when it gets too quiet up there, You say to Yourself, ‘What kind of mischief can I play on My friend Tevye?’ ”
Stein plays Tevye with a twinkle in his eyes and a flare of his nostrils. Although “Fiddler” is an ideal platform for his considerable comic gifts, the musical reveals his full acting range.
In the course of Tevye’s signature song, “If I Were a Rich Man,” his emotions run the gamut from anger and self-pity to wry humor and rapturous joy.
Stein has the perfect partner in Balay, who is ideally cast as tough, tart-tongued Golde. Her strong voice shines in the touching wedding hymn “Sunrise, Sunset” and the charming duet “Do You Love Me?”
Stuart, meanwhile, does double duty as chatterbox Yente and Fruma-Sarah, Lazar Wolf’s deceased first wife. She’s suitably creepy as a vengeful spirit from beyond the grave in the musical’s entertaining dream sequence, featuring Britney Simpson as adorable Grandma Tzeitel and Peter S. Hadres as the delightfully doddering Rabbi.
“Fiddler” is at its best during these exuberant song-and-dance numbers. Audience members will find themselves clapping along during “To Life,” which finds Tevye, Lazar, innkeeper Mordcha (Leo Cortez) and the rest of the men dancing arm-in-arm with high-kicking Russian soldiers, and cheering during the wedding scene’s bottle dance.
As for the beautiful “Sabbath Prayer,” it’s sure to send shivers down everyone’s spines.
In addition to DeAnne Kennedy’s rustic set and Russian folk art-inspired banners and backdrop, “Fiddler” features colorful patchwork costumes by Frederick P. Deeben, lighting design by Jennifer “Z” Zornow and sound design by Elisabeth Rebel. (Hopefully, the sound-system issues apparent on opening night will be sorted out soon.)
All those factors add up to make “Fiddler” an energetic celebration of life and its challenges.
IF YOU GO
"Fiddler On The Roof"
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through May 12
Clark Center, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande
$25 to $34
8 p.m. various dates, June 13 through July 6
Solvang Festival Theater, 420 Second St., Solvang
$29 to $42
922-8313 or www.pcpa.org
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.