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THEATER | STAGE REVIEW

High Notes and Low

A sentimental 'Fiddler on the Roof' captures its mingling of dark and light.

July 16, 1998|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Fiddler on the Roof," even though ripely sentimental, has always been a mostly graceful mingling of dark and light. The folks scraping through life in the Jewish village of Anatevka sing and dance happily, but also know persecution is coming as sure as the sunrise.

This atmospheric musical receives a satisfying staging at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts because director Bill Shaw and his Musical Theatre West cast understand the moodiness of the material. There are awkward patches, to be sure, but the production's gentleness make them easy to overlook.

In 1964, when "Fiddler" was first produced on Broadway, it created a stir, mainly for the seriousness of its underlying themes. The creators (composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and book writer Joseph Stein) based it on the often melancholy stories of Sholem Aleichem, who chronicled Jewish life, the good and the bad.

At the center of "Fiddler" is the now familiar Tevye, a milkman with a ramshackle home filled with women. He has five daughters, three approaching marrying age, and a wife eager to find matches for them. You can tell that Gary Gordon's broad-bellied Tevye is a little worn out by this matrimonial problem and, especially, his lack of riches. Yet he enjoys life.

Gordon isn't a hugely charismatic Tevye, but he's solid as the star and anchor. When he dances slowly around the stage, picking up energy while singing "If I Were a Rich Man," it's clear Tevye has enough passion to push through any calamity--even the devastating one that displaces his family and friends near the show's finale.

Until then, he mostly has his daughters to fret over. Tzeitel (Lyndie Renee), Hodel (Jeanne Castagnaro) and Chava (Jill Lewis) are a headstrong group, and the actresses who play them are effectively willful. The trio offers a lively rendition of "Matchmaker," and Castagnaro's "Far From the Home I Love" is a standout.

As Golde Tevye's no-nonsense wife, Marcie Lynn Ross slips into the cliche of an overbearing Jewish mother. There's not a lot of room to move in the role, but pushing at its restraining wall isn't a bad way to go.

Bigger concerns come with the ensemble dance scenes, when the La Mirada stage seems to get very crowded, very fast. The sequences, based on Jerome Robbins' original choreography, aren't especially complicated, but they require more precision and fluidity than they get here.

There isn't a problem with the production's look. The sets (credited to the company) aren't elaborate, but their rough-hewn, rural quality is appealing.

The technical star is Jacqueline Jones Watson. Her lighting design adds emotional depth to many key moments, from the strange dream scene in Tevye and Golde's bedroom to the sad goodbye when Hodel leaves Anatevka and sings "Far From the Home I Love" to her grieving father.

BE THERE

"Fiddler on the Roof," La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Ends July 26. $18-$32. (714) 521-4849. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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