‘Fiddler’ is on top of it

Courtesy of Leigh Black Irvin

Durango’s John Garza delivers Tevye’s signature “If I Were a Rich Man” during a sunset performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Farmington.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

Golde shakes her distraught husband out of an apparent nightmare and insists he tell her everything: “Tell me what you dreamed, Tevye, and I’ll tell you what it meant.”

This little marital moment in “Fiddler on the Roof” leads to an elaborate dream scene. Only the audience knows it is Tevye’s ruse to change Golde’s stubborn mind. The ruse works.

If you have never seen “Fiddler,” go see it now. The evergreen 1964 Broadway musical is based on stories of village life in Tsarist Russia by Sholem Aleichem. “Fiddler” centers on Tevye, a struggling dairyman and father of five daughters who sorts out his problems by conversing every day with God, his greatest friend.

“Fiddler,” directed by Theresa Carson, starts at 8 p.m., just before sundown. It ends two hours and 15 minutes later. Carson has trimmed the original three-hour show into a tight, well-paced production. She has a gift for clarifying complicated scenes in imaginative ways and swiftly transitioning from one theatrical moment to another.

The outdoor Lions Wilderness Amphitheatre serves “Fiddler” well. Credit set designer Ben Mattson for flanking the open central area, the village of Anatevka, with Tevye’s house and porch plus platforms opposite that variously represent other village interiors. The scheme is particularly effective for the “Sabbath Prayer,” when village families pause and sing through the beautiful candlelight ritual. Above the village, upper levels include natural rock outcroppings and add dramatically to the action.

From big full-cast numbers to simple duets, Carson brings to life village concerns, family squabbles and first loves.

The production isn’t flawless. Last weekend, the sound system experienced some odd blank spots. There a few underplayed roles. The chief conflict at the end of Act I could be heightened and intensified. Periodic tuning problems seemed to plague the small orchestra. That said, the production has a winning lead at its center, Durango’s John Garza. The role is critical to the success of any production of “Fiddler.”

Garza portrays Tevye as a warm, endearing, and sometimes spiky father, husband and community member. At the beginning, Tevye lovingly, yet realistically, describes his village and its inhabitants. He states emphatically what holds everything together: “Tradition.”

That famous song sets up all the conflicts that follow, and at critical points, the musical motif resurfaces. When each of Tevye’s three grown daughters breaks with tradition to marry the man she loves, listen for a whiff of the “Tradition” melody.

Garza’s rich baritone rings through memorable songs such as “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” Tevye and Golde (Linann Easley) make an old-fashioned marriage work, especially in the plain-as-muslin duet “Do You Love Me?”

Director Carson places her jaunty Fiddler (Aaron Gomez) on rooftops and lets him hover over the village like a nimble version of Fate. Credit Suzanne DiSanto for marvelous choreography throughout – spirited folk dancing, for example, and a formal wedding dance that morphs into larger meaning because of – what else? – The problems related to Tradition.

Four musicians support the cast. Music Director Helen Gregory stitches the entire musical fabric together on piano and vocal director Virginia Nickels-Hircock makes all the choral numbers tuneful and well balanced, especially the closing hymn to Anatevka, beloved village.

Tevye’s nightmare/dream is the most complex scene musically and for staging. At Thursday’s performance, everything came together as gauzy swaying ghosts filled the stage and scampered up to the high rocky promontory at the back. Tevye elaborated his vision to his unsuspecting Golda. Grandma Tzeitel (an extravagant Lani Dill) forwarded Tevye’s fantasy as she wavered on the highest platform. Then, in a flash, the vision vaporized.

If that isn’t breathtaking theater, what is?

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

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