REVIEW

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is a gorgeous production

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Gateway’s musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” opened in Bellport on Friday, buoyed by a radiance that poured forth from every actor, with Bruce Winant as Tevye at the helm, spinning the story as if it were their own personal journey.

Thirty cast members delighted the audience with the rousing opening number “Tradition,” arms and hands held high in joy, bodies swaying to an inner spiritual calling, boots stomping for emphasis, voices in an operatic chorus as they sang and danced.

Be still my heart. (Well, soar if you must.) This show is truly beautiful.

The story, circa 1905 in Anatevka, a small poor Russian village (now the Ukraine) on the eve of the Russian Revolution, centers around a father and his wife of five daughters, three of marriage age, eking out a living as a dairyman and trying to hold on to the old ways of Jewish life.

The theme is touchingly poignant. Let’s face it, many of us wish for the good old days. But while village life is vibrant with the gossipy, hilarious, fast-talking matchmaker Yente, played by Susan J. Jacks (she is brilliant), rich butcher Lazar Wolf (Justin R.G. Holcomb), the Rabbi (David Tabachnik), the Town Boys, the Bottle Dancers and others, life is change, as this story reminds us. And we must change with it if we are to thrive.

That’s where the actual Fiddler (Samuel Gray) comes in. Perched on Tevye’s roof in the first number and in various moments, he’s a metaphor for survival in life’s uncertainty.

Winant’s Tevye is an expansive, grateful, humorous, honorable, kind force at the center of the story, who accepts his life. He talks affectionately to God, to himself, and reasons fairly with others while attempting to unravel dilemmas. A generous soul with integrity who loves his family, his gestures, whether a shrug, eye roll, or a silently mouthed “thank you” to a solution, are perfect.

(I wish he was my uncle.)

His wife, Golde (Abby Lee, whose voice is gorgeous), is weary, resigned, efficient and hopeful that their three daughters, Tzeitel (Leah Mossman), Hodel (Ruth Froch) and Chava (Rebecca Lynn Goldfarb) will find good, prosperous husbands via the matchmaker. But Tzeitel, the oldest, must marry first, and all three daughters have minds of their own.

We’ll leave it at that, with a few spoilers. But we can elaborate on some of the songs.

“If I Were a Rich Man” is delicious (who hasn’t warbled their own version) as Tevye sings out his joyful, playful, imaginative “if only,” strutting, screaming his wish, clucking like a chicken, acting out each phrase. Wow!

The “Sabbath Prayer,” with the beginning words “May the Lord defend and protect you,” as candles are lit, is very profound and beautiful.

While this musical won several Tony Awards, “The Dream” scene in Tevye’s bedroom when he is wrestling with how to tell his sleeping wife of his marriage decision for Tzeitel not to marry Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher, but her own choice, is frankly, Oscar-winning. The imagined ghosts of Grandma Tzeitel and Lazar’s dead wife, Fruma-Sarah (Jennifer Brett, a force to be reckoned with), who rises up from the grave as a horrible wraith warning there will be a curse if Tevye’s daughter marries Lazar Wolf, with the Rabbi and whole village singing, is a brilliant, fall-over-laughing spectacle.

The many wonderful aspects of this production just keep coming, thanks to director/choreographer Keith Andrews.

(Mazel tov, Keith!)

The beautiful set is a magical-realism design of trees, a swirling sky that changes to twinkling stars, a distant hill, the cottage and village they live in.

Besides the singing, the dancing is spectacular, especially with the Bottle Dancers and leaping Russian dancers adding to the wow factor of the show. (James Monroe Stevko is the dance captain.) Music director/conductor Keith Levenson and his musicians truly honored the score.

The cast is a talented crew who have starred on Broadway, Off Broadway, National and Regional tours, on television, in New York City clubs. There are Gateway alums in here, namely Mark Ryan Anderson (“Jersey Boys” and “Cabaret”) as Fyedka; Ryan K. Bailer (“Evita” and “The Sound of Music”) as the Constable; and Jose Contreras as Nachum (“Holiday Spectacular on Ice,” “Evita,” and “The Wedding Singer”); and Justin R. Holcomb as Lazar Wolf (“West Side Story,” and “Jekyll & Hyde”).

It’s worth noting that Gateway artistic director Paul Allan pointed to a recent Yiddish version of “Fiddler” that ran at Manhattan’s New World Stages and tried to be true to the culture.

“That helped us,” Allan said of crafting this glorious production.

The musical runs to Feb. 25. Get tickets at www.thegateway.org