Stage Review: Pittsburgh CLO honors a classic in 'Fiddler on the Roof'

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Some stage classics are like fine wine. They seem to grow richer with time.

Such is the case with the Pittsburgh CLO's latest offering, the Tony award-winning "Fiddler on the Roof," at the Benedum Center, Downtown, through Sunday. Broadway veterans, regional theater regulars and children developing their musical theater chops revived with healthy doses of comedic flare, tenderness and charm the 1964 tale about the tug of war between Tevye the dairyman and his daughters over Old World values and New World ways.

Leading the cast was "Fiddler" alumnus Lewis J. Stadlen, whose Tevye encapsulated the character's many facets: gruffness, quick wit and an endearing perseverance to do right by his family and his Jewish faith. His tongue-in-cheek chemistry with Susan Cella, Tevye's wife, Golde, was another highlight. By the end of the night, the pair had complete command of the audience, earning robust laughs for their sarcastic jabs, a thoughtful hush during the affectionate "Do You Love Me?" and a standing ovation on opening night.

'Fiddler on the Roof'

Where: Pittsburgh CLO at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

When: Through Sunday. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $10-$65; or 412-456-6666.

The five daughters also complemented each other well, and the eldest three played by Emily Shoolin, Lauren Worsham and Anne Markt were colored with impressive depth. They were lighthearted and playful, such as in "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," yet could tap into more vulnerable emotions. Other standout performances came from the girls' beaus. David Perlman's Motel packed just the right combination of first love giddiness and jitters, particularly during his solid delivery of "Miracle of Miracles." Nick Verina (Perchik) similarly exuded joy and strong vocals in "Now I Have Everything." Kay Walbye's quirky, fun-loving Yente the Matchmaker peppered the production with spunk.

It took a couple of numbers for cast members to settle into their onstage personas, coming up a bit short on energy and conviction near the beginning. By the middle of the first act, the transformation was complete: They were the characters, and those in the crowd became other villagers observing the happiness and hardships of Anatevka at the turn of the 20th century. Seamless set changes and backdrops depicting placid skies and rolling hills further brought the village to life.

The Jerome Robbins choreography isn't the most technically demanding, in terms of leaps, turns and tricky footwork. Instead, the challenge lies in making the movements appear as spontaneous, natural extensions of characters' mannerisms and circumstances. Except for some stiffness in the opening "Tradition," the artists flourished, topped with a nearly perfect execution of the bottle dance. Providing the pulse behind it all was the orchestra's lively interpretation of the Jerry Bock score.

It all enabled performers to take the audience on an emotion-packed, 2 1/2-hour journey. Some moments were side-splittingly humorous, such as the outlandish dream scene where Tevye concocts a nightmare to persuade his wife to think twice about the match Yente made for their oldest daughter. Others were poignant, such as the "Sabbath Prayer" performed before a simple black backdrop smattered with white lights for stars.

The staying power of "Fiddler on the Roof" is its ability to span beyond its early 1900s setting in Revolution-bound Russia. The story of a poor Jewish father's internal struggle to decide when to hold firmly to his beliefs and when to let go lends itself to a multitude of other scenarios. It takes a certain caliber of cast, like this one, to prompt us to look beyond the script's historical and cultural references and discover the Tevye in us all.


Sara Bauknecht:


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