Fiddler on the Roof | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Fiddler on the Roof 

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Fiddler on the Roof, Light Opera Works, at Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium. "To life" indeed. There's a ton of it, not to mention heartbreak and wisdom, in William Pullinsi's warm revival of this nearly flawless musical. Its universality comes from specifics--its scripture-citing, God-fearless milkman rich in daughters and poor in everything else. Isolated its setting may be, but this Jewish hamlet is still part of history: it's 1905, when the first major rebellion will be launched against the latest pogrom-crazed Romanov. As tenacious survivor Tevye watches his beloved town, Anatevka, cope with change, he takes on an epic indomitability; John Payonk, who has considerable presence and superb diction, gives the character an operatic sweep without sacrificing his peasant humor, moving powerfully from song to joke to sorrow. And thanks to Cassie Dawe's choreography, this three-hour staging displays a timeless, Chagall-like grace: communal dances chronicle a seder, betrothal, nightmare, wedding, and finally the settlement's expulsion.

It's frustrating how many songs by this great cast can be savored only once. Particularly potent is Hodel's haunting ballad "Far From the Home I Love"--which has never achieved the popularity of "Sunrise, Sunset," perhaps because of its sadness. Audrey Billings's tender Hodel gives every note a story. Equally devastating is Payonk's anguished "Little Chavaleh," Tevye's memory-rich lament for the daughter he disowned.

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