This past Friday night Pioneer Theatre Company kicked off its 2015-2016 season with the spellbinding and timeless classic Fiddler on the Roof which has tradition of excellence that mirrors PTC’s year in and year out efforts of putting out high caliber productions that have enthralled audiences for decades. It fitting that PTC chose to open their season with Fiddler on the Roof, which was originally produced in 1964 just a few years after PTC opened its doors.
Tradition was in the air and on the tips of everyone’s tongues as the cast of Fiddler opened the play with a rousing rendition of the aptly named classic “Tradition”, a song that has touched and inspired audiences for decades and is as well known as any song on Broadway. The cast of PTC’s Fiddler does a marvelous job of bringing to life a stirring ballad that brilliantly fuses the unique Jewish history and culture through song and dance.
Karen Azenberg, who is the Artistic Director of PTC, masterfully brings Fiddler to life with captivating choreography and skillful direction which combined with beautifully designed set pieces sweeps the audience into the quaint Russian village of Anatevka and into the hearts and minds of its residents who are the brink of a cultural revolution. Azenberg manages to delight audiences with the clever catchy tunes that the musical is famous for but still stays true to the powerful narrative that Fiddler delivers of tolerance, tradition, and changing times.
What makes Fiddler a timeless masterpiece is not just the wonderful music but in the story it tells of Tevye, played by Michael Thomas Holmes, who is faced with a barrage of tradition breaking daughters who choose true love over matchmaking which forces Tevye to adapt to changing times and choose between the love of his family and honoring his religious tradition. Despite being over 50 years old the story of Fiddler is as relevant today as it was when it was written as seen by the changing times and traditions of our modern times. The seemingly impossible task of balancing tolerance and tradition that Tevye faces is tale that is as old as time and yet refreshingly relevant in our own turbulent times.
Yet despite a deep and thought provoking storyline Fiddler is at heart about entertaining through song and dance and the cast of Fiddler more than meets the high expectations that come with staging a musical as important and culturally engaging as Fiddler. There is no better example of this than Holmes who absolutely steals the show with his captivating and near perfect performance of Tevye. Holmes brings the skill of a seasoned stage actor with spot on comic timing and a dramatic depth that makes it impossible not to want him as both a friend and father.
When Holmes speaks with God during his soulful soliloquies he artfully manages to break down the imaginary fourth wall and make it seem like he is actually speaking to the audience instead bringing a level of intimacy that truly makes the audience feel as though they are part of the show. When Holmes performs the popular song “If I Were a Rich Man” he doesn’t just sing it but rather brings it to life as an extension of the character he is brilliantly recreating.
Holmes, along with the direction of Azenberg, create an atmosphere that makes Fiddler seem fresh despite its long running popularity and based the response of a more than satisfied audience more then met even the most expectant and critical fan while gaining new fans in the process. PTC’s production of Fiddler is the perfect way to open yet another theatrical season of imagination through this stirring and heartwarming performance that thoroughly exemplifies PTC’s growing tradition of excellence.