Fauquier Community Theatre brings ‘Fiddler’ to life
The Fauquier Community Theatre troupe performs a dress rehearsal of 'Fiddler on the Roof.' - Photo by Adam Goings.
By Constance Lyons
"Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!"
With these words, Tevye, a poor milkman living out his life in an impoverished community of Jews in Tsarist Russia, sets the theme that lies at the heart of this brilliant musical.
Called by the great theater critic Brooks Atkinson “a major artistic achievement,” the play is riveting and emotionally wrenching, veering from exuberant flamboyant humor to heart-wringing grief.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is now playing at Fauquier Community Theater at Vint Hill.
“Fiddler” is based on a story by the great Jewish writer, Sholom Aleichem. Tevye is trying to make sense of his poverty, the prejudicial attitudes of non-Jews, and the romantic entanglements of his five daughters. He carries on lengthy conversations with God, at once pleading, remonstrating, arguing.
He arranges a marriage between his oldest daughter Tzeitel and the wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf, but reluctantly gives in when the girl falls in love with the poor tailor Motel Kamzoil. His second daughter insists on marrying a would-be anarchist; worse yet, a third marries a-non-Jew. Tevye fancies himself more broad-minded than his gentile oppressors, but even so, cannot accept so extreme a transgression of his cherished beliefs.
In the end, he and his neighbors are forced out of their village by the Tsar’s minions.
The musical has a strong script by Joseph Stein and an even stronger score by Jerry Bock, overflowing with such show-stoppers as “Tradition,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” It was the first musical in history to run for more than 3,000 performances.
“‘Fiddler’ is the last of the great era of Broadway musicals,” said director Scott Heine. “In two acts it veers from tremendous humor to overwhelming grief. The characters are trying to hold onto their traditions in a world that increasingly refuses to let them. They’re living in two worlds, caught between tradition and history.”
Heine, who is pastor of Hope Christian Fellowship Church, has had extensive experience in theater, both as an actor and director. He played Daddie Warbucks in FCT’s production of “Annie,” the Prince in their “Cinderella,” and directed last season’s “Music Man.”
“I am especially drawn to the relationship Tevye shares with God, as revealed in his extraordinarily casual and often humorous prayers,” said Heine. “He is thoroughly committed in his faith, convinced that God is deeply involved in the intimate details of his life.”
Late in the play, his optimism almost exhausted, Tevye is told that money is the world’s curse. “May the Lord smite me with it,” says Tevye, “and may I never recover.”
Any production of “Fiddler” stands or falls on the accomplishment of the actor playing Tevye: the character dominates the play. Walter Loope’s performance is a marvel. He commands the stage like a force of nature: the character emanates from the inside out, possessing the actor. Loope is a tall, sturdily built man and he trudges bear-like around the stage, waving his arms expansively, exuberantly flinging his arms around his family and friends, pointing an accusatory finger at God, with whom he has an intimate, edgy relationship. Tevye is Everyman, but written on a grand scale, larger than life, and Loope instills his character’s basic ordinariness with grandeur. His voice veers from a hearty, booming roar to a plaintive whine to a modulated murmur of repressed emotion.
“He’s a man at once clinging to the past, dealing with the present, and trying to comprehend the future,” said Loope of his character.
He is equally effective in ebullient moments (If I Were a Rich Man); a tender contemplative scene, when he asks his long-time wife, “Do You Love Me?” and a heart-wrenching moment when he is forced to choose between renouncing either his faith or his daughter.
The supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Margo Heine is affecting as Tevye’s overworked, slightly bitter yet humorous wife; the chemistry between them is palpable. Their three marriageable daughters, played by Leah Papadopoulous, Lisa Gulickson and Rachel Yeager, have lovely lilting voices; they are especially captivating interacting in the frolicsome “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match.” Chantal Campbell is appropriately raucous and abrasive as Yente the Matchmaker.
The arresting set, designed by Tim Kirk, evokes the colorful, imaginative paintings of Marc Chagall, from whose work the play draws its title. Chagall painted modernist images of Eastern European Jewish folk culture; his paintings adorn the walls of the beautiful United Nations building in New York City. They are fanciful; full of movement and color as well as unexpected startling elements such as real leafy branches shooting up from the tops of the sets.
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