PITTSBURGH - The humble inhabitants of a small, impoverished Russian-Jewish village named Anatevka extend an invitation to break bread with them in Pittsburgh's Benedum Center, where until Sunday the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera is observing life's grandest simplicities and most excruciating hardships with its vibrant and predominantly poignant production of "Fiddler on the Roof."
As the Russian Revolution of 1905 rapidly approaches, a deluge of personal burdens seem to successively barrage a poor, God-fearing Jewish milkman named Tevye when his three eldest daughters inform him of their intentions to marry without the traditional arrangements made by the town matchmaker. As the doting father learns that each of his girls' suitors have either questionable lifestyles or meager means of support, he is confronted with a harrowing debate - would it be morally correct, as the head of his household and the spiritual leader within his family, to allow his precious children to wed their chosen ones, while forfeiting the beliefs he has clung to for many years? Or could it possibly be worse to submit his daughters to a life of misery with men they do not love?
As Tevye, Lewis J. Stadlen personifies absolute affection for each of his five daughters and maintains an endearing exuberance throughout the production, especially during his zealous rendition of "If I Were a Rich Man." Hindering Stadlen's interpretation, however, is the superfluous amount of comedy that he injects into his portrayal. As Tevye is faced with ever-increasing sorrows, Stadlen sometimes assumes a mocking or flighty air, making his Tevye seem unaware of, or unwilling to withstand, the graveness of the situations he encounters.
Susan Cella as Golde, Tevye's prearranged wife of 25 years, solidifies the production with stately poise and a pleasing quantity of peppery matter-of-factness.
Emily Shoolin's portrayal of Tevye's firstborn daughter, Tzeitel, enriches the production with an arresting tenderness and dignity. Shoolin also radiates a heartrending despair as she pleads her papa to allow her to wed David Perlman's Motel, a jittery and destitute tailor. Perlman, in turn, emanates sincerity throughout, particularly while joyfully boasting Motel's triumphant proclamation "Miracles of Miracles."
Lauren Worsham as Hodel, Tevye's sharp-witted second daughter, and Nick Verina as Perchik, an authoritative revolutionary student from Kiev, respectively, compliment each other well, though both occasionally appear overbearing; and Anne Markt's demure and, at times , exceedingly emotional Chava, Tevye's third child, blends sweetly with Hunter Ryan Herdlicka's charmingly dignified Fyedka.
The production's ensemble brings explosive energy to a variety of robust choreography styles. Among the most arousing choreographic moments is a bottle dance in which four male performers, each with a bottle attached to his hat, engages in a series of steady yet jostling step arrangements in which their legs propel with increasing litheness from underneath their erect upper bodies.
Though carrying some notable imperfections, the Pittsburgh CLO's refreshingly innocent presentation of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's splendidly tuneful "Fiddler on the Roof" ensures a richly orchestrated and highly exuberant theatrical occasion. If you will be in the Theater District soon, you should try to attend!
(Sarah Reed is theater critic for Weekender.)