Fiddler on the Roof has all the qualities of a great musical: a timeless story, hummable tunes, the opportunity for exciting visual moments, and a charismatic leading man. And retiring artistic director Kathy Brombacher has taken advantage of each of these elements to create as her final production a genuine hit that can be enjoyed by the all-ages crowd the her company, Moonlight Stage Productions, likes to attract.
The timeless story comes courtesy of Sholem Aleichem, the pen name of Solomon Rabinovich, a Russian Yiddish author who wrote about hope despite poverty in the Jewish shtetls at the turn of the 20th Century. Joseph Stein’s book captures that hope in the form of Tevye the milkman (David Ellenstein), a man who talks to his God as amiably as with a best male friend and whose quotations from scripture may not be accurate, but they certainly are pithy.
The hummable tunes come courtesy of Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics). The pair collaborated on a number of musicals, mostly in the golden age of the 1960s, but despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiorello! Fiddler is their masterpiece. The other musicals (including She Loves Me and The Apple Tree) are today considered to be small gems. In Fiddler, though, the music and lyrics are of a piece with the book, and songs such as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” and “Sunrise, Sunset” are immediately recognizable to anyone who enjoys listening to Broadway music.
The striking visual elements come courtesy of the lovely lighting designed by Jean-Yves Tessier that makes the poverty of the small Russian town look almost romantic, the colorful rented costumes that were originally designed by Sherrie Diaz, and Carlos Mendoza’s choreography, which borrows heavily from the original, by Jerome Robbins.
As Tevye, Mr. Ellenstein, playing hooky from his artistic director position at North Coast Rep in Solana Beach, charms the audience – maybe not so much with his singing but with his ability to kvetch without ever making audiences think that he’s having less than the time of his life.
Tevye’s wife, Golde (Victoria Strong), his five daughters, and the townspeople of Anatevka are all of an amiable sort. There is little harshness in either the acting or the singing, and veteran music director and conductor Elan McMahan manages to draw some stylistic niceties out of the choral and instrumental ensembles. Standouts in the large cast include Timothy J. Allen and Alexis Grenier as the pair of young lovers who start to attack the traditions that have bound the town’s society together, Charlene Koepf as Hodel, the intellectual dreamer of the daughters, and veteran San Diego-area performer Danny Campbell, who scores as the wise and witty town rabbi.
Ms. Brombacher’s direction deftly brings the elements together with simple but effective staging, lovely stage pictures, and not a weak performance to be seen. She is hampered a bit by the fact that Fiddler is a lengthy show (it was past 11 when the house lights came up), but the opening night audience didn’t seem to mind the length one bit.
Prior to the performance, volunteers wandered through the audience selling opportunity drawing tickets and giving away tee shirts that publicize Moonlight’s current outdoor season. The back of the tee shirts included the phrase, “Bravo Kathy!”
The cast includes David Ellenstein, Victoria Strong, Alexis Grenier, Charlene Koepf, Aubrey Elson, Megan Spector, Remy Corbin, Jamie Snyder, Ralph Johnson, Bryan White, Danny Campbell, Fernando Acevedo, Charles Finn, Elise Harvey, Amy M. McDowell, Susan Stuber, Timothy J. Allen, Bryan Vickery, Gabriel Villanueva, Jeremy Shull, Ritchie Diego Valenzuela, Matthew Malecki, Stephen LaFata, Noah Baird, Will Ellenstein, Hayden Kerzie, Carlin Castellano, Hourie Klijian, Shea Starrs Siben, Skylar Starrs Siben, Sloane Starrs Siben, Scarlet Strasberg, Eric Hellmers, Brandon Sanchez, Stephen LaFata, Matthew Malecki, Sebastian Montenegro, Susan E.V. Boland, Jason R. Bailly, Jason Webb, Sebastian Montenegro, and Dirk Rogers.
Performs at the Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista CA 92084, July 25 – August 11 at 8pm Wednesday – Sunday (no performance August 8). Tickets ($15 – $50) available by calling (760) 828-0596 or by visiting Vistix Online.