Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Fiddler on the Roof
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Tiananmen, Dancing at Lughnasa and Frankenstein

Adam Guinn and Cast
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
In times of global strife and uncertainty, certain stories become even more poignant, transcending their historical settings to resonate with contemporary situations. Although the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof unfolds in early 1900s Russia, its themes of tradition, family, and resilience against cultural and political upheaval are reflective to our world's ongoing struggles, including the recent and ongoing conflicts in Israel.

Hale Centre Theatre's production of this beloved musical is nothing short of splendid. With an excellent cast, led by an exceptional performance by Adam Guinn as Tevye, this production brings the beloved tale of tradition and change vibrantly to life. The result is a solid and heartwarming rendition of a timeless musical that skillfully balances humor and serious themes and that transcends religious and cultural boundaries while also offering a story brimming with hope.

Based on Sholem Aleichem's stories, Fiddler on the Roof weaves together the story of a poor Jewish dairyman, Tevye, his wife Golde, and their five daughters with the other inhabitants of their village and the changing world around them. Against the backdrop of anti-Semitism and the Russian expulsion of Jews from their village, Tevye strives to hold on to his traditions and religious customs. The musical navigates weighty topics with humor and creates a moving story that shows how a simple man grapples with evolving social norms while also firmly and deeply rooted in his faith.

I believe that Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best written musicals of all time. The ability to tackle serious subjects with a deft touch of humor is a testament to the genius of bookwriter Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick. They achieved a remarkable feat by addressing heavy themes while infusing the narrative with humor and creating a well-structured and emotionally resonating story. The musical's characters are realistic, and the situations beautifully explore how someone struggles with the shifting world around them and the challenges that impact their family. There isn't one scene or song that isn't additive to the thrust of the story, and the enduring popularity of the musical's songs, such as "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Tradition," and "Sunrise, Sunset," attests to the timeless quality of Bock's music and Harnick's lyrics.

For a musical that has been produced countless times around the world, director Cambrian James employs a tried-and-true blueprint while adding original touches to keep the story fresh and vibrant. The staging of Tevye's dream and the Chava sequence are some of the best and most effective in the close to two dozen productions of this musical I've seen. James ensures that the humor lands with big laughs while the gravity of anti-Semitism remains constantly at the forefront. His direction of his cast manages to constantly maintain a delicate balance between the lighthearted and the poignant.

Adam Guinn's portrayal of Tevye is simply wonderful. His connection to the character is spot on, his deep, resonant voice delivers stirring notes in his songs, his commanding stage presence shines, and his impeccable comic timing and genuine chemistry with the cast create a beautiful and endearing performance. Alice Johnson delivers a remarkable portrayal of Golde, effectively balancing the humor and emotional depth required for the role. In the second act there are added layers of authenticity and warmth she brings to her character, making her portrayal both engaging and realistic. Guinn and Johnson have fantastic chemistry, which also adds to the realism of these two beloved characters.

The interactions among Tevye's daughters, their suitors, and other villagers feel genuine and add to the rich tapestry of the production. The chemistry between Brie Wadsworth-Gates and Brandt Norris as Tzeitel, Tevye and Golde's oldest daughter, and Motel, the nebbish tailor she loves, respectively, is palpable, creating a convincing and relatable on-stage couple. Norris perfectly captures the essence of the nervous tailor without making him into a caricature as other productions I've seen have done, and Wadsworth-Gates portrays Tzeitel as a headstrong and charming character, adding depth to their relationship. As Hodel, the second oldest daughter, Gracie Gamble's solo performance of "Far from the Home I Love" is a standout moment, showcasing her warm vocals. Noah Delgado embodies the role of Perchik, the rebel stranger who falls for Hodel, perfectly in a well-executed and sharp performance.

Carmiña Monserrat brings a lovely amount of sweetness and innocence to Chava, the third oldest daughter. Her poignant dance solo in act two further adds to her character's feelings and the overall emotional impact of the production. Joshua South adds depth to the usually one-dimensional role of Fyedka, the Russian who is friendly with Chava. Suze St. John brings a delightful combination of energy, strength, and humor to the role of Yente, the matchmaker. As Lazar Wolf, Taylor Hudson is bold and bright, and the entire supporting cast shine with portrayals that contribute significantly to the authenticity and emotional resonance of the production. Of note are Truman Regard-Whipple, who is wonderful as the Rabbi's son who often has to correct Tevye's Torah quotes; Kira Galindo and Lauren Berman who are fantastic as Fruma-Sarah and Grandma Tzeitel in the dream scene; and Kyle Webb, who adds moments of playfulness to the production as the Fiddler and is used quite effectively during the scene changes to connect one moment to the next.

James' choreography pays homage to Jerome Robbins' original steps, including the famous wedding bottle dance, while injecting fresh and effective movement into the dance sequences. The set design by McKenna Carpenter is warm and creative, with a permanent wooden roof top in the corner of the in-the-round space that is quite effective in adding a rich texture to the Anatevka setting plus great movable set pieces that quickly identify the various locations in the show. The costumes are rentals but are excellent, while the lighting by Catherine Andrus evokes the atmosphere of the village for both the daytime and nighttime scenes.

Fiddler on the Roof is a powerful and emotional piece of musical theatre that resonates with contemporary conflicts, including those currently happening in Israel, and serves as a reminder that the human spirit, the struggle for tradition, and the importance of family persist through generations. Hale Centre Theatre's production is sharp and solid and one of their best.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through November 25, 2023, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-497-1181

Producers and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein
Director and Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: JR McAlexander
Costume Designer: Robert Fletcher and Vincent Scassellati
Costumes Provided By: The Kansas City Costume Company
Lighting Designer: Catherine Andrus
Scenic Designer and Head Scenic Artist: McKenna Carpenter
Scenic Painters: Brittany Arwine and Liz De La Torre
Sound Designer: Boyd Cluff
Prop Master: Liz de la Torre
Set Painting Assistants: Brittany Arwine, Liz de la Torre, and Mikel Waszazak
Head of Carpentry: Kyle Webb
Carpenters: Michael Pratt and Travis Dietlein
Executive Costumer: Tia Hawkes
Costume Coordinator: Celia Erickson
Costume Stitchers: Toni Anne Smith and Molly Hill
Wigs and Makeup: Cambrian James
Performance Stage Manager: Justin Peterson
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Boyd Cluff
Production Assistant: Jamie Fleischer
Audio Engineer: Jackson Zyontz
Assistant Stage Manager: Trevor Leavitt
Production Assistant: Jamie Fleischer
Business Manager and Hale Bookkeeper: Britney Carpenter

Tevye: Adam Guinn
Golde: Alice Johnson
Yente: Suze St. John
Lazar Wolf: Taylor Hudson
Tzeitel: Brie Wadsworth-Gates Motel: Brandt Norris
Hodel: Gracie Gamble
Perchik: Noah Delgado
Chava: CarmiƱa Monserrat
Fyedka: Joshua South
Shprintze: Mason Berchman
Bielke: Marlee Rae Olson
The Constable: Justin Howell
The Rabbi: Gary Pimentel
Fruma-Sarah: Kira Galindo
Mendel: Truman Regard-Whipple
Mordcha: Payten McLeod
Avram: Raymond Barcelo
Grandma Tzeitel: Lauren Berman
Nachum: Bennett Allen Wood
Shaindel: Gillian Elliott
Rivka: Sarah Cleeland
Villager: Sophia Castelluccio
The Fiddler: Kyle Webb