Tevye is a middle-aged dairyman in pre-revolution Russia with five daughters, three of whom are approaching marriage age. He’s the de facto leader of a rural Jewish village. Life seems good in this tiny hamlet where tradition rules. Tradition like fathers being the breadwinners and mothers keeping the homes and sons learning a trade and daughters getting married to the men chosen for them by their parents with the help of the matchmaker, Yente.
But Tevye is facing two problems. First, the world is changing and threatening his beloved traditions. His daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, have the nerve to want to pick their own husbands. Second, and more daunting, the anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia is creeping ever closer to their community. Despite their attempts to remain insular, the outside world is slowly encroaching on their way of life. But Tevye approaches it all with a wry sense of humor and an abiding faith in God, with whom he constantly talks like an old friend.
I probably sound like a broken record when I say this, but this is another top-flight production by the Actors Guild of Parkersburg. Under the able direction of Barbara Full, the amazingly large cast of 34 give consistently strong performances. Led by the ever-powerful RJ Lowe as Tevye, Su Meredith as his wife Golde, and Ashley Fluharty, Daisy Lawrence, and Edain Campbell as their daughters, the acting and singing are simply wonderful. Ms. Lawrence is particularly captivating as Hodel, who falls in love with the earnestly charming Perchik, a young teacher from Kiev, portrayed quite appropriately by Eli Tracewell. But the most emotionally jarring moment comes when Ms. Campbell’s Chava begs her father to accept her marriage to a non-Jew, only to have him decide his love for his daughter cannot overcome his pride and tradition. We can feel her devastation as she watches him walk away.
The only minor downfall of the show is, ironically, its ambitiously large cast that at times struggles to fit effectively on the Guild’s rather diminutive stage. This is most pronounced during the wedding scene in which nearly the entire cast (minus the Tsarist thugs who show up at the end) are dancing together. My companion and I agreed that what could have been a truly show-stopping scene is hamstrung by the fact that they just don’t have the room to pull off the choreography without turning into a jumbled mass of people, so many of whom are crammed together with their backs to the audience that the effect is just lost. I hesitate to bring this issue up, as it’s hardly the fault of the choreographer that the cast is so large and the stage so small, but it feels disingenuous not to.
That one tiny blot notwithstanding, this is a delightful production filled with laughter, surprises, and even some tears, along with several songs that will be quite familiar to many even among those who have never seen the musical before. I highly recommend it and strongly suggest you get your tickets quickly, as it will likely sell out most if not all its showings. Speaking of showings, the curtain goes up Friday, March 2 at 8pm, with other evening performances on March 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17, and 2:30 matinees on March 4, 11, and 18.