Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Fiddler on the Roof Kicks off Stratford's 61st Season with Twelve Productions
Scott Wentworth in Fiddler on the Roof

Stratford has always been magical for me as with this 2013 season, a true labour of love for all involved in the myriad productions.

If you enjoy music and dance, the Festival offers up a real treat with its production of Fiddler on the Roof which consistently places in the top-five list of best Broadway musicals, featuring great songs such as If I Were a Rich Man and Sunrise, Sunset (during the wedding scene) accompanied always by the brilliant and robust Jerome Robins choreography featured in such brisk numbers as To Life , and the Bottle Dance. Fiddler will be a huge money-maker this season for Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and his able crew.

Besides world-class music, dance and acting, Stratford also excels in the nuts and bolts of theatre with incredible detail and craftsmanship imbedded in all of the particulars from wardrobe that features masks inspired by Chagall in this production to unusually intricate props such as the tiny village houses all constructed with such care that it must be a joy for an actor to appear on the Festival thrust stage, surrounded by attentive audiences. When you attend Fiddler, you know that it's a true labour of love for all involved.

Fiddler is an affectionately humorous portrait of life in a Jewish village in Tsarist Russia which centres on Tevye (Scott Wentworth), a milkman-philosopher who finds his values challenged by his daughters' insistence on following their hearts rather than the dictates of tradition. And in the meantime, more sinister changes are on the horizon - ones that threaten the community's very existence.

Donna Feore in her Director's Notes relates, "There's a famous story about a conversation that the writing team had during the creation of Fiddler on the Roof. The director, the great Jerome Robbins, was not completely happy with how the show was evolving. He asked the writers, Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, a simple question: "What is this show about?" After days of discussion, one of them finally replied: "It's about the dissolution of a way of life." Robbins told them to go back and show that way of life. That is how the opening number, " Tradition," came to be. It is the through-line of the entire show."

Andre Morin (left) as Motel, the tailor and Jennifer Stewart as Tzeitel. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Barbara Fulton (centre) as Grandma Tzeitel. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Gabrielle Jones (left) as Yente with Kate Hennig as Golde. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Jennifer Stewart as Tzeitel and Andre Morin as Motel. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Julius Sermonia (left) as a Russian Dancer and Scott Wentworth as Tevye. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

"Fiddler on the Roof is about universal human values, the individual, the family, the society. It speaks directly to all of us, regardless of race, creed or colour. It touches anybody who has ever had to suffer thoughtless cruelty or injustice. It is also very much an actor's musical, with complete characters, and one in which every scene, song and dance moves the story forward."

"When Scott Wentworth spoke his first lines as Tevye, alone on the Festival's historic thrust stage, I was overwhelmed and even more convinced that this was the perfect space for this show. This theatre was designed to serve soliloquy: the actor is close to the audience and truly thrust in among them. This is one of the few musicals that has true soliloquies. Like Hamlet, Tevye shares his thoughts in communion with the heavens and his audience alone."

"Fiddler's vocabulary of movement must be consistent with the culture. Jerome Robbins researched endlessly to create his iconic "Bottle Dance" and "Tradition," and I felt it essential to respect that spirit. In "To Life," for example, I looked to authentic Russian and Ukrainian dance. I am blessed with some of the best dancers in our country, and the thrust stage brings you close to their work, giving you what I hope will be an exciting, intimate experience."

Matt Alfano (centre) as a Russian Dancer. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Mike Nadajewski as Perchik. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Scott Wentworth (centre) as Tevye. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann  Scott Wentworth as Tevye. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

"In my first meetings with set designer Allen Moyer and costume designer Dana Osborne, we agreed that we wanted to celebrate the undeniable influence of Marc Chagall on the original design of the show. Chagall's renderings of shtetl life beautifully capture a bird's-eye view of the community from which the central stories emerge. The Fiddler and the iconic images floating above the shtetl homes all have important roles to play."

"I felt it was important for the actors to have a very strong understanding of the history of both Sholem Aleichem's book Tevye's Daughters (on which Fiddler is based) and the musical itself. We have spent a great deal of time working with our consultant on Jewish culture, Dr. Darren Marks. We have all been very fortunate to be able to learn so much about the deep roots of this culture, and I wish to thank Dr. Marks for his thoughtful contribution, which has been invaluable to our process. L'chaim!"

In the Program Notes, Darren C. Marks who teaches at Huron University College at Western University in London, Ontario refers to the "Marc Chagall-inspired scenic design and colour palette, which reminds us that this is not only a real place but also one of heightened, intensified imagination. But perhaps the most salient reason is that Fiddler is greater than the sum of all its parts: its particularly Jewish story, anchored in a way of life most audience members know little about, continues to resonate as human, independent of race, nationality or religion. A Japanese producer once asked Stein whether Americans truly understood the musical because it seemed so Japanese."

Take in Fiddler at Stratford. It was originally scheduled to run at the Festival Theatre until October 27, but has since been extended.

Steve Ross (left) as Lazar Wolf and Scott Wentworth as Tevye. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Fiddler on the Roof | 2013 Stratford Festival

Fiddler on the Roof | An Unconventional Man | Stratford Festival

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