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Tess Maretz, Sam Zeller, and Emlyn Helmbacher
Photo by Nathan Peirson

Last year, Fiddler on the Roof was produced at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado, and was a gigantic hit. For those who missed it, the production is now playing at The Lyceum Theatre. This version, which will be closing in early February, is consistently spellbinding and works on many different levels.

During 1905, Tzarist Russia, Tevye (Sam Zeller), a larger than life dairyman lives in a tiny village, Anatevka. He has a tough, but pleasant life with his no-nonsense wife, Golde (Co-director and Lamb’s Associate Artistic Director, Deborah Gilmour Smyth) and his five daughters. His situation becomes complicated after his three oldest girls, Tzeitel (Charlene Koepf), Hodel (Catie Grady) and Chava (Megan Carmitchel) fall in love.

Most of the cast from the Lamb’s Players Theatre have returned to reprise their roles. Speaking with a voice that sometimes resembles Dom DeLuise, Zeller plays his part with enthusiasm and puts himself completely into his role. His take on “If I Were a Rich Man” is shockingly fresh, at times similar to a monologue than an iconic musical number.

With sarcastic humor and a rich voice, Smyth is sublime as Tevye’s devoted wife. She sings her big duet with Zeller, “Do You Love Me?,” beautifully, simultaneously combining bitter humor with compassion.

The three actresses who play daughters of Tevye all have strong vocals; however, Grady shines throughout Fiddler on the Roof as Hodel. Her tear-inducing rendition of “Far From the Home I Love” is emotionally stirring.

The new performers are all extremely comfortable with their roles. Kurt Norby captures the awkwardness and sensitivity of Motel, the tailor who loves Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tzeitel. He performs “Miracle of Miracles” with high spirits and sincerity.

As Yente, the “Matchmaker,” Rhona Gold scores big laughs as the domineering, but likeable marriage broker. She is a master of Joseph Stein’s clever prose.

Krysten Hafso-Koppman steals her big scene as a deceased woman who appears in “Tevye’s Dream.” The sequence as a whole is an impressive visual piece of stagecraft.

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Catie Grady, Charlene Koepf, and Megan Carmitchel
Photo by Ken Jacques

The on stage six-member band may be small, but every member helps contribute to create a rich sound and makes every single song shine. As the Fiddler, violinist, Ernest Sauceda, captures the audience by playing mesmerizing music whenever he appears.

Colleen Kollar Smith’s choreography is joyous, helping to emphasize celebratory moments in Tevye’s existence. Many cast members get to showcase some stellar dance moves during “To Life!” and “The Wedding Dances” at the end of Act 1.

Jeanne Barnes Reith’s costumes, Nathan Pierson’s lighting and Mike Buckley’s set design all contribute in effectively depicting the poor, but colorful village, Anatevka, and the people who live there. These components make their home seem like an unconventionally enchanting place, despite the many socio, socio-economic and political problems that the main characters face on a daily basis.

With so much eye candy, husband and wife directors Robert Smyth, Lamb’s Producing Artistic Diretor, and Deborah Smyth could easily have turned this classic tale into a heartless spectacle. However, they know to not lose track of the story.

Universal themes regarding family tradition, love, oppression and optimism continue to strike an emotional chord. The directors get these messages across by wisely putting emphasis on Tevye’s numerous conflicts with his family. By putting as much focus on their many relatable conversations together, the grand epic still packs a punch.

With timeless music and lyrics from Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler on the Roof still has the power to affect family members of all ages. Even those who have seen prior adaptations, will most likely enjoy every second of the stirring evening.

[box] Performs Sundays at 2, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8, and Saturdays at 2 and 8. Tickets are $34-$68 with discounts for students, military, and seniors. Running Time: about two hours and 40 minutes, with one-15 minute intermission.

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Photo of Lyceum Theatre
Lyceum Theatre
Work 79 Horton Plaza San Diego CA 92101 USA Work Phone: (619) 544-1000 Website: Lyceum Theatre website
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David Dixon

David Dixon

A fan of theatre from a young age, David Dixon began writing reviews while in middle school, for Union Tribune’s Rated G column and sdcnn.com. He was the Entertainment Editor for SDSU’s The Daily Aztec. Currently, he contributes to San Diego Community News Network, a regional reviewer for Talkin’ Broadway, an interviewer for San Diego Theatre Reviews and has won several San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. David is a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle member, an American Theatre Critics Association member & Regional Theatre Tony Award voter.

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