Kathy Brombacher is no novice when it comes to staging Fiddler on the Roof. In 2012, the Founder and Producing Artistic Director Emeritus of Moonlight Stage Productions was responsible for a well-received version at the Amphitheatre. Less than four years later, she is revisiting the musical masterpiece, this time indoors, at the Welk Resort Theatre.
Set in 1905, Tsarist Russia, a poor Jewish dairyman, Tevye (Rudy Martinez), lives in a close-knit village, Anatevka. Despite hoping to become “a wealthy man,” he lives a modest existence with his stern wife, Golde (Wendy Waddell) and their five daughters. His traditional values are tested when his three oldest girls, Tzeitel (Kelly Derouin), Hodel (Nicki Elledge) and Chava (Olivia Hodson) become attracted to different men.
After a couple of minutes, with sweeping music under the direction of Justin Gray, it becomes apparent that Brombacher has not lost her touch with the material. The opening musical number, “Tradition” has a rousing quality that lets the audience know that they are in good hands.
As the characters are introduced, they move to Jerome Robbins’ original choreography, which is reproduced by Orlando Alexander. There is so much intricate visual artistry, that glancing around the stage is required to appreciate the expressive dancing.
Contributing to establishing the ethnic environment is the set from Doug Davis and Janet Pitcher’s costumes. Neither the scenery or clothing sugarcoat the lifestyles of the impoverished characters.
Despite lacking wealth, the residents are far from mopey or depressed. One of the most moving aspects of the emotionally fueled rendition is the strong spirits of the main family. Each member suffers from unusual circumstances, but they all are resilient and are able, to the best of their ability, to overcome most obstacles they encounter.
Many stars have played Tevye as a grand patriarch with a gigantic personality. Martinez is more subdued and makes the father both calm and reflective. If Martinez sometimes rushes through his monologues, he still sings elegantly and has plenty of chemistry with the other cast members.
Martinez and Waddell are almost too convincing acting as the mismatched couple who have been married for 25 years. In the famous musical number from Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, “Do You Love Me?” the two leads sing about an unusually successful partnership with wit and charm.
Martinez’s non-showy acting leads to some quietly affecting moments, especially when intimate lighting from Jennifer Edwards is used. This is true in Act II during a conversation between Tevye and Hodel where only the two of them are visible onstage. Martinez interacts with Elledge in such a touching way, that theatregoers will have to wipe away some tears.
As the plot goes on, the tension should rise as Russians depict intolerant behavior towards Jewish people. This leads to the only major gripe with Brombacher’s revival.
The Constable should be a morally ambiguous Russian official who should appear empathetic and potentially threatening. A problem with Devin Collins (in addition, he hilariously plays a comical rabbi) is he seems too friendly towards Tevye.
There is no menace or intensity between the two men, even during their final heated confrontation. Since the run of Fiddler on the Roof is through April, Collins might be able to find a better balance as he continues to portray the peace officer.
More suspenseful is figuring out if Tevye’s daughters will end up with the men they have fallen in love with? Derouin, Elledge and Hodson develop sympathy as the three sisters try to obtain personal happiness.
Although none of the siblings upstage the other, Derouin deserves a special mention for getting to also play Grandma Tzeitel in “The Dream.” She holds her own with the ensemble members in what is perhaps the most broadly funny tune in the profound tale.
Featuring unforgettable music and affecting dialogue by Joseph Stein, the powerful impact of Fiddler on the Roof is once again at full force. Even those that recently saw the acclaimed Broadway revival, featuring University of California, San Diego Alumnus Danny Burstein, should find plenty to enjoy during the dramatic evening.