Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Fiddler on the Roof
The Phoenix Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Mack and Mabel, Newsies, Heathers The Musical and Alice by Heart

Scott Davidson and Jodie Weiss
Photo by Billy Hardiman
Staś Kmieć earned acclaim with his musical staging of the hit 2018 Off-Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof that was performed entirely in Yiddish. After performing in two national tours of this classic musical and directing and choreographing many other productions of Fiddler, Kmieć has brought his familiarity with the beloved show to town for a fantastic production at The Phoenix Theatre Company. Featuring two gifted local actors, Scott Davidson and Jodie Weiss, as the iconic character Tevye and his suffering wife Golde, and a talented cast who bring energy and passion to their roles, it's a well-directed and excellent production of this beloved and timeless musical.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Fiddler on the Roof centers around Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman, his wife, and their five daughters. Set against the backdrop of a changing world, Tevye strives to maintain his traditions and religious customs while facing anti-Semitism and the Russian expulsion of Jews from his small village of Anatevka.

Despite tackling these serious themes, bookwriter Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, who based the musical on stories by Sholem Aleichem, infused the show with humor to balance the darker moments. They created fleshed out characters and realistic situations that illustrate how Tevye, a deeply religious man, navigates the evolving social mores impacting his family. Fiddler on the Roof stands as one of the best-written musicals of all time as the creators not only address serious topics with a blend of humor but also craft a cohesive story with rich characters.

Many songs from the score, including "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Tradition," and "Sunrise, Sunset," have become standards. The result is a timeless, touching, and hopeful tale that resonates no matter your religious beliefs due to the musical's blend of humor, poignant storytelling, and timeless songs.

Director/choreographer Staś Kmieć brings the story's heart to the forefront. He introduces new, original touches to the staging, ensuring it feels fresh for audiences who've seen the show before, while honoring Jerome Robbins' original production. Kmieć stages much of the action downstage, fostering an intimacy with the audience. His choreography incorporates some of Jerome Robbins' iconic dance steps, including the showstopping bottle dance, while adding his own effective dances, executed exceptionally well by the large cast.

Scott Davidson and Jodie Weiss excel as Tevye and his wife Golde, delivering two of the best portrayals I've seen in countless productions of the musical and convincingly portraying a couple married for twenty-five years who had not met before their wedding day. Davidson and Weiss's strong voices, facial expressions, and reactions result in well-crafted performances. Davidson particularly shines in his conversations with God and the strong connections he has with the five actresses who play his daughters. Weiss manages to find the warmth in Golde to ensure she's not just depicted as a nagging wife.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Dani Apple and Nick Barakos, as oldest daughter Tzeitel and her beloved Motel, share a believable and affectionate chemistry. Xandra Abney, as Hodel, the second oldest daughter, delivers a beautiful rendition of "Far from the Home I Love," while Dallyn Brunck impresses as Chava, the next oldest daughter. Josh Pike and Michael Bingham, portraying Hodel and Chava's love interests, respectively, create strong and compelling three-dimensional characters. All six have strong singing voices that shine on their well-known songs. Lori Wilner perfectly captures Yente the matchmaker, delivering her humorous lines with impeccable timing. The large ensemble, including James Zannelli as Lazar Wolff, Renee Kathleen Koher as Fruma Sarah, and Louis Farber as the Rabbi, all contribute beautiful portrayals.

Douglas Clarke's set design is perfect, featuring large backdrops with three-dimensional elements and movable pieces for the various locations in the show and, when combined with Yelena Babinskaya's stunning lighting design, create many gorgeous moments; the scenes showing the sun glowing in the sky or the nighttime settings are simply lovely to see. Music director Kevin Robert White achieves wonderful sounds from the large cast and 12-piece orchestra, with notable work from Erikka Makić as the Fiddler.

Fiddler on the Roof is a powerful piece of musical theatre about hope that resonates universally and transcends religious boundaries because it explores universal themes of tradition, family, and resilience in the face of change. The combination of a wonderful score, humor, and realistic drama tells the story of a simple man in a changing world effectively. With its talented cast, strong direction, and wonderful creative elements, Phoenix Theatre Company's production of this powerful and enduring piece of musical theatre is exceptional.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through July 7, 2024, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit call 602-254-2151.

Director/Choreographer: Staś Kmieć
Music Director: Kevin Robert White
Scenic Designer: Douglas Clarke
Lighting Designer: Yelena Babinskaya
Costume Coordinator: Ashley Gamba
Sound Designer: Dave Temby
Hair + Makeup Designer: Kelly Yurko
Properties Master: Sarah Harris
Director of Production: Karla Frederick
Stage Manager: Samantha Monson *
Assistant Stage Manager: Maylea Bauers*

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Hodel: Xandra Abney
Tzeitel: Dani Apple*
Motel: Nick Barakos
Constable/ Label: Geoffrey E. Belliston
Fyedka: Michael Bingham*
Chava: Dallyn Brunck
Mordcha/Nachum: Aaron Cammack
Chaim/Luka: Anthony DaSilva*
Tevye: Scott Davidson*
Rabbi: Louis Farber
Fruma Sarah/Ensemble: Renee Kathleen Koher
Ensemble: Teddy Ladley
Schloime/ Sasha / Ensemble: Matthew Aaron Liotine*
Fiddler: Erikka Makić*
Avram: Ben Massouras
Sphrintze: Ellie Mitchell
Perchik: Josh Pike
Bielke: Parker Pitt
Yussel/Yuri/Ensemble: Nick Raynor*
Mendel/Vladek: James Monroe Števko*
Golde: Jodie Weiss
Yente/Grandma Tzeitel: Lori Wilner*
Lazar Wolff: James Zannelli*
Swings: Shani Barrett, Liam Boyd, Bonnie Romney, Marshall Glass.

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.