"Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch" are words to a delightful song in the heart-warming and much-loved musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, a production of The Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, now playing at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.
It´s sung playfully by Hodel and Chava, two daughters of a poor dairyman who have no dowries but still dream of a Yiddish version of Prince Charming for a husband.
But poor young Jewish girls in 1905 Russia have to depend on the wiles and wisdom of the Matchmaker and the autocratic decision of their Papa for their nuptial happiness. After all, it´s their tradition!
The musical´s opening number, dramatically choreographed by director Jon Engstrom and precisely performed by the ensemble, clearly lays out the role of the Papa, the Mama, the Sons and the Daughters.
"Without Tradition," says Tevye, the good-natured father of five daughters and spokesman for the town, "our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof."
Emili Lauren plays the agile little fellow with the Fiddle. Unobtrusive, but ever present in the lives of the villagers, he represents the customs and rituals that have held the people together for generations.
The bending and breaking of these traditions emerges as the story´s theme, and audiences witness just how far Tevye will stretch to reconcile the "old ways" with the ideas of the new generation.
First, his eldest daughter Tzeitel (Carly Nykanen) chooses her own husband, albeit a nice Jewish boy, the tailor Motel Kamzoil (Richard Israel), and Tevye has to break his word to the influential butcher, Lazar Wolf (Stephen Reynolds) to whom he´s promised her hand. ("Miracle of Miracles")
Next, Hodel (Michaelia Leigh) and Perchik (Jason Webb), a radical Jewish student from Kiev, become engaged without asking Tevye´s permission; only his blessing. It´s an affront to Tradition, but the loving Papa bends a little more and reluctantly consents. Later his heart is broken as Hodel leaves to be with the Perchik in Siberia ("Far From the Home I Love").
But when "Little Chaveleh" (Deidre Haren) marries a non-Jewish Russian soldier (Kelby Thwaits) and asks Tevye to accept them, he cries in anguish, "If I try to bend that far, I will break." In a heart-wrenching scene he thrusts her away saying, "I have no daughter!"
Soon after, the Constable (Leland Burnett) brings an ominous edict that forces the people to abandon their village. Neighbors and friends say their goodbyes, knowing they will be "strangers in a strange new place…searching for an old familiar face…from Anatevka."
And in a poignant scene that´s sure to bring tears to eyes, Chava and Fyedka try one last time to break through Tevye´s tradition-imposed wall of intolerance. He won´t look at his daughter, but a fervent prayer escapes his lips. "Go with God!"
The curtain falls as an uncertain "Fiddler" watches the retreating family. At the last minute, Tevya turns and (of course) invites the familiar fellow to join them in their wandering.
Newcomer to South Bay CLO Thomas Fiscella stars as Tevya, performing the role with a marvelous balance of robust good humor, appealing tenderness, and appropriate solemnity. His conversations with God and "on the other hand" debates with himself quickly endear him to the audience. His "If I Were a Rich Man" is classic musical theatre, and the energetic re-telling of his "prophetic" nightmare to a horrified Golda is both hilarious and impressive.
And a welcome break with tradition comes with Fiscella´s lean stature in a role that often features generously proportioned actors.
Victoria Strong, a familiar face at South Bay, plays to perfection the traditional assertive Jewish wife and mother, Golda. Her acting is very convincing, whether she´s rebuking an evil curse, considering marital love ("Do you love me?"), or seeing a daughter wed ("Sunrise, Sunset").
Other solid performances are given by Arlene Thomas as Yente the Matchmaker and Richard Malmos as the frail, elderly Rabbi.
Outstanding ensemble numbers include the stylized and crisp "Tradition," the beautifully staged "Sabbath Prayer," featuring soft-focused tableaux of families around candle-lit tables, and the eye-popping, crowd-pleasing Wedding Bottle Dance, performed without glitch and evoking appreciative applause.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a moving and memorable family-friendly musical, with familiar songs, pleasing visuals and beautiful orchestration.
It runs through December 21, Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Saturday matinees at 2:00 pm on December 13 and 20, Sundays at 2:00 pm, and Sunday evenings at 7:00 pm on December 14 and 21.
Tickets are priced $40 - $60 and can be purchased online at civiclightopera.com, or by calling (310) 372-4477.
The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center is located at 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd in Redondo Beach.