Fiddler on the Roof is a marvel of a musical: classic yet poignantly evergreen with a book as funny as it is devastating, packed with great roles (especially for women; imagine such a thing!) and endless musical earworms. If you haven’t seen it live in awhile, or ever, it’s easy to think of Fiddler as oldschool programming, a slightly boring choice for an older crowd when there are countless more hip musicals out there. But nearly all of those far more hip choices are lightweights compared to Fiddler, a dense, challenging, sophisticated piece that just so happens to also be your mother’s favourite (your mother has good taste, don’t be a brat about it). Though there’s not much room for large-scale reinterpretation so it’s not a piece that belongs in every season, I think any healthy theatrical community should have access to at least one Fiddler on the Roof every few years, if only to remind us of what the medium of musical theatre can be when it’s taken seriously and met with humanity and ambition.
Fiddler is perfect programming for the ever-reliable Drayton Entertainment with their strong resources and regional audiences. They’re not really in the business of redesigning the wheel so their by-the-book approach is perfect for a show that benefits from lots of care but might lose a little impact if a production strays too far from, ahem, tradition.
Currently playing the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge, Drayton’s Fiddler features a show-stealing set from Douglas Paraschuk that’s rich in detail (the chimney really smokes!) and bonus points metaphor, excellent lighting by Kevin Fraser, and a strong leading performance from the company’s Artistic Director Alex Mustakas. The cast in general struggles to bring out the full effect of the comedy in Joseph Stein’s all-time-brilliant book but the voices are universally strong and Mustakas’ dramatic performance is a crucial anchor.
As the fiddler himself, Jesse Grandmont gives the production’s most intriguing performance. Rather than hiding in the pit, his fiddler is nearly omnipresent on-stage, dynamically haunting Tevye’s story with a distinct personality and superb technique.
For the most part, Drayton’s is a standard Fiddler, which is all it needs to be- a production that allows the text to shine in a season that could, even more than usual, really use a Fiddler on the Roof.