Cedarville University’s production of Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s classic 1964 musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem, is deflated by awkward, inadequate musicality.
Barring technical difficulties, there’s no reason in the world why anybody’s staging of “Fiddler” should produce an Act 1 heading toward two hours. But this is exactly what’s happened at Cedarville due to weak music direction by conductor Carlos Elias who hasn’t mastered the timing within Bock and Harnick’s score, superbly accenting an endearing story of a poor Jewish family coping with change in their tiny Russian village of Anatevka in 1905.
In Elias’ hands, the waltzes are startlingly slow (“Sunrise, Sunset” is particularly painful) and the sprightly sentiments (“If I Were a Rich Man,” “To Life,” snippets of “Tevye’s Dream”) lack vigor. The only number that truly resonates in terms of musicianship is “Do You Love Me?,” an Act 2 gem containing an engaging, conversational essence (akin to “I Remember It Well” from “Gigi”) that constantly flows thereby avoiding any sense of derailment.
Thankfully, “Do You Love Me?” is also a signature moment because of the wonderful rapport and lyric-driven astuteness of Robert Rhodes and Anna Caroline Porter as Tevye and Golde. Throughout the tune, which finds Tevye and Golde tenderly reminiscing about their marriage, Rhodes and Porter beautifully connect with humor, depth and a mutual understanding that their love will survive no matter what the future holds. Excellent portrayals under the direction of Diane Conrad Merchant extend to the sharp, witty David Widder-Varhegyi as humble tailor Motel and a marvelously firm Madison Hart as the daring Chava who defies her family with dramatic results.
Choreographer Carrie Anthony’s commendable routines bursting with personality and colorful exchanges, Robert Clements’ first-rate scenic and lighting design, and Debbie Hamrick’s attractive period costumes are additional assets of this presentation still in search of its musical pulse.
“Fiddler on the Roof” continues through Feb. 8 in the DeVries Theatre of the Stevens Student Center at Cedarville University, 251 N. Main St., Cedarville. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Act One: 1 hour and 45 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $12-$15. For tickets or more information, call (937) 766-7787 or visit www.cedarville.edu