By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media
“Tradition is what keeps us balanced” are the first words spoken on stage by Tevye, a dairy man in the town of Anatevka. Tevye has five daughters and a wife. As tradition would have it he met Golde his wife of 24 years through a marriage arranged by a matchmaker. Their wedding day was the first time he laid eyes on her. So too will their daughters find their husbands in this traditional manner, through a matchmaker. Or will they? “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”…..I love that song.
Many traditions survive the test of time, others evolve, fade or are broken altogether. Through song, dance and superb acting that is what Fiddler on the Roof is all about. Trying to hold on to tradition as times and attitudes change in an ever unpredictable and evolving world.
The family struggles to survive but they are happy. Tevye through his song “If I Were A Rich Man” imagines the life he would have if only he had money. Tevye, the lead character is played by Jonathan Hashmonay, who in real life is originally from Israel where he has lived most of his life and is the decedent of holocaust survivors.
Where does tradition come from? “I don’t know” says Tevye. But he is doing everything in his power to keep family traditions alive although he is often willing to bend the rules as long as they do not break.
Two of the daughters find love but not through the matchmaker, Yente, played by Mary Beth Webber. Instead one is tailor, a childhood friend and the other a social activist and teacher who befriends Tevye and ends up proposing to one of the daughters before leaving to fight for the cause he believes in, stopping the German occupation of his homeland.
The traditional Jewish wedding is full of customs, song and merriment, that is until Lazar, the butler and Tevye get into a heated exchange that ruins the ceremony. Tevye, after a few drinks, had agreed to allow the 62 year old, well to do, Lazar to marry his much younger daughter but when she protested saying she would be unhappy for the rest of her life, Tevye changed his mind leading to the ensuing chaos at the wedding. Reminded me of a couple of weddings I’ve been to.
When one of Tevye’s daughters chooses to marry outside the Jewish faith, the rules break and so does Tevyes heart. He cannot accept it and tells his wife Golde “She is dead to us” and refuses to have anything to do with her going forward.
While Fiddler on the Roof may not have a happy ending, depending on your view of what may have happened to families like Tevye’s trying to find a new life after have been displaced from their traditional homeland, it is definitely and engaging and entertaining production. The songs are moving such as when Tevye finally works up the nerve to ask his wife after 24 years of marriage, “Do You Love Me”. Another classic number from this 60 year old production is “Sunrise, Sunset”. The opening number “Tradition” is fantastic and sets the stage for whats to come. The acting from this diverse cast could not be better as is its directing.
Fiddler on the Roof invites us to look back, reflect on our own traditions and values. To examine how community and faith have played into those long held beliefs and customs that shape our existence, our faith and our communities. Every culture and religion has them and most every member of those communities practices them in some form or another. As director Barlett Sher puts it, stories like Fiddler on the Roof are about the spirit of going forward, the spirit of enduring , the spirit of holding on living by your faith and by your family. It allows the audience to discover their own past all over again.”
Fiddler on the Roof plays the Buell theatre through March 19th only. That’s just six days to catch this wonderful production.