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EMAV Review: 'Fiddler' gently tugs at the heart strings with timeless tale ★★★★★

★★★★★ - Irresistible

With its hopeful sunrises and melancholy sunsets, Signature Production's "Fiddler on the Roof," playing now at the Summerlin Library Theatre, features eloquent performances with a wide spectrum of feeling to match its colorful skies. Directed by DeAnna Anderson with a traditional telling, there's a clarity to the presentation that conveys the ephemeral nature of life and how the past and future collide to form the present.

The 1964 Tony-winning musical is based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem and the play "Tevya and His Daughters" by Arnold Perl, and written by Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music), and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), with Jerome Robbins directing and choreographing. Detractors thought the show downplayed the hardships of collective Jewish experience, but the creators felt its universal themes about tradition, family, faith, and love gave voice to all humanity. And with the world in such upheaval and so many people displaced from their homes, it seems more topical now than ever.

Set in 1905 in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in a shtetl called Anatevka, dairyman Tevye lives with his wife Golde and their five daughters in a modest home, their lives under increasing threat from vicious pogroms. His three oldest girls Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava are of marrying age, but they'd rather not have matchmaker Yente arrange unions for them as tradition dictates. Intelligent and forward thinking, they'd like a chance at love and happiness by choosing their own mates as partners in life. With each marriage proposal more radical than the one before, Tevye's faith is tested as he questions God and the place of tradition in a rapidly changing world.

The unassuming Glenn Heath plays Tevye, one of the most sought after roles in the musical canon. During "If I Were a Rich Man" he's got Tevye's shimmy down, but he isn't your typical gruff Poppa, explosive and full of bluster. Heath captures Tevye's wit with quiet self-effacement and his thoughtfulness with deep introspection, crafting a gentleman who takes his time to weigh the issues during conversations with God. His emotions are raw, and there are lovely, vulnerable moments with his daughters and their unconventional suitors as he plaintively sings, "Look at my daughter's face, she loves him." He may have his doubts about tradition but we don't doubt that he loves his family. His measured, understated portrayal transcends the times and feels utterly modern.

At Tzeitel's wedding Tevye and Golde, played with proud, optimistic, and loving strength by Melissa Riezler, reflect on the painful "Sunrises and Sunsets" of life in a heartrending ensemble piece. Heath and Riezler make a complimentary pair, and it's fun to see their affection grow as she finally drops her pragmatic facade during their sweet duet "Do You Love Me."

The three oldest sisters are vividly drawn and sublimely sung by the delicate Amanda Collins as Tzeitel, the feisty Narée Asherian as Hodel, and a headstrong Reese Carter as Chava. Their memorable trio "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" is gorgeous and full of cheerful yearning, and it's a pleasure to watch them blossom as they fully embrace their individual destinies.

Each girl shares a nice chemistry with her sweetheart. Especially endearing is Joshua Meltzer as Tzeitel's love the humble tailor Motel, who hits all the right notes during his joyous song "Miracle of Miracles." A cerebral Jared Griffith embodies Hodel's progressive guy Perchik, nailing lines like "Money is the world's curse..." with perfect idealism. And Joey Miceli has a calming quality as Chava's rebellious choice the Russian gentile Fyedka.

Anita Bean is a natural comic foil as the busybody Yente; Gene Vitale brings a kind presence to the butcher Lazar Wolf during the song "To Life"; and while Faith Radford as Grandma Tzeitel is difficult to see from certain vantage points she's very funny during the rip-roaring "Tevye's Dream," as is Lisa MacKay who manages to belt out a difficult tune while literally flying across the stage as the ghoulish Fruma Sarah. Kudos to the entire cast who are wonderfully in tune.

Anderson's elegant yet rustic village set is a pretty palette for both joy and sorrow which uses rolling pieces and a raked ramp to enhance staging possibilities; Elizabeth Kline's vibrant lighting design reflects time, place, and mood with polychromatic color; Roxanne Andrews' costumes are earthy, perfectly peasanty, and well-constructed, though a few mens' trousers look messy; and Noah Goddard's awe-inspiring sound design is barely noticeable at all, engineered so it's not too loud or too soft and every word is clearly heard.

Shauna Oblad's musical direction is masterfully harmonious; Ashley Oblad's choreography (presumably after Robbins' original compositions) features the ensemble giving precisely timed folk dances of claps and snaps as well as an excellent quintet in an intricate Bottle Dance that thrills the crowd; and while Alda Tomasic's wig and make-up design works well overall, in some cases it feels overdone. A variation in the color and weight of wigs, beards, and eyebrows might look more natural.

As he watches and plays his violin, the Fiddler (Joshua Smithline) is a metaphor for the human spirit. He is both our ancestors and our descendants, and he is us.

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