REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof (Players Club of Swarthmore; Swarthmore, PA)
The Classic Musical Feels More Relevant Than Ever in this Community Theatre Production.
It has been said that since its initial Broadway production in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof had been performed every day somewhere in the world, until 2020. It has been a staple of regional, community and school theatre programs since its premiere, and watching it again for this review, it is clear to see why. The story of Tevye the milkman is specific, yet universal, filled with amazing music, and an effortless ease of storytelling that speaks testaments to writers Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. It is such a well constructed show, that still remains easily accessible to audiences and easily producable for any sized theatre group.
The Players Club of Swarthmore (PCS) is a Community Theatre in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania that has been around and producing theatre since 1911. Community theatres are just that: theatres that have sprung up in various small communities across the country; they tend to consist of local performers and residents volunteering their time and efforts to help produce a play or musical. The people involved tend to have an unwavering love of theatre, and are not in it for fame and success. Instead, Community Theatre lives and dies by the heart and passion shown on stage, which can sometimes be more powerful than extensive Broadway training or dazzling flair. Thankfully, that heart and love is on full display in this production.
Fiddler on the Roof takes place in Anatevka, a rundown, poor, turn of the century Russian village, that has been captured rather well on the PCS main stage. Set designer Ed Robins utilizes the height of the stage to make the houses feel large, and at times overbearing. They move in ways you don't expect them to, and reveal the dingy interiors of the characters homes. They add to the storytelling as opposed to detracting, leaving the rest of the stage bare for the large cast to maneuver through during group numbers. The other technical aspects follow suit, and do their jobs well, but you can tell that the set was a major focus, and rightfully so.
To Life! To Life!
This production doesn't reinvent the wheel in terms of storytelling, allowing the scenes and musical numbers to happen as they come, and imbuing them with the energy they need to get the points across. As Tevye, Rick Serpico leads the audience through all of the traditions and understandings of the world the characters live in, with a lovely singing voice and a great grasp of the humor intrinsic to this character. This particular production had a rather large cast, and when their voices all came together it was truly powerful. Other standouts among the cast were Liat Kovnator, Molly Van Trees, and Micaela Hickey as Tevye's daughters: Tzeital, Hodel, and Chava, respectively. Each had a clarity of character that was refreshing, and each performer had a particular strength showcased by their character. Kovnator had some of the best acting on stage in her scenes with Tevye and Motel; Van Tress was a vocal standout with the haunting ballad "Far from the Home I Love"; Hickey had a wonderful and heartbreaking dance routine once she had found her love.
The choreography and musical staging at times felt a little underwhelming, with the exceptions being "To Life" and the infamous wedding bottle dance; the latter being a particular highlight, with not a single dancer dropping a bottle. There is also an extended dream sequence that starts off rather interesting, but includes a section that unfortunately made me wary. In the sequence, a performer playing a vengeful ghost is flown across the stage. While visually, it is very striking, there were several times where it looked like the performer hit the floor too hard, and didn't make me feel the most confident in the safety of the performer. I am all for awesome stage pictures, but it should never come at the risk of any performers or crew.
It's remarkable how this show's themes are still so relevant today after nearly 60 years. The themes of family, struggle and survival are as interesting as they were when they were first uttered. There is an idea throughout about how and when to change, and how far someone can bend before they break, which is particularly topical in today's current generational debates. This production doesn't stand in the way of the show's messaging, and while it may not reinvent the wheel, it does what Community Theatre does best: bringing the stories we love, told by those that love them, to new audiences. Personally, watching Tevye grapple with himself and his traditions will never grow old, and I will take any opportunity to visit Anatevka and hear this story.
Fiddler on the Roof is onstage at
Players Club of Swarthmore
(614 Fairview Road, Swarthmore PA)
from now until September 30th.
Tickets and more information can be found at pcstheater.org.