When I first heard that Threshold was doing Fiddler on the Roof, I was intrigued, if a little skeptical. I’ve seen many production of the classic musical — it’s a big show, typically with a big cast, big set, and big orchestra. Were they really going to pull off this huge musical within the space of an intimate black box theater? Fiddler is a play about balancing old cultural traditions with the acceptance of new ones as the world advances at the turn of the 20th century; it’s an interesting experiment, then, to then produce the play in a venue that is untraditional for the show.
During the show’s opening number, the famous “Tradition,” which features the entire company, I wasn’t sure they were going to pull it off. Seated in the first row, I was sure someone was going to step on my feet. It felt very crowded, and the actors presented characters that seemed to be over-the-top caricatures of past performers’ interpretations.
However, my opinion had changed by the time we reached the chilling “Sabbath Prayer,” a little less than halfway through the first act. I can’t put my finger on exactly what made this moment so incredible. The song is not typically known as one of the show’s most popular songs and is one that I had easily forgotten about in past productions. This time, though, the song was nowhere near forgettable. I may have had to wipe a few tears from my eyes as the actors’ voices rang together in harmony amidst the candlelit set.
This is why Fiddler needed to be done in a black box theater. From that point forward, I was captivated, feeling like I was a part of the story, struggling with these people. Luckily, many of those caricatures were toned down to more relatable ones after the opening scenes.
Stan Gill, who is also the show’s director, gave a moving performance as Tevye. He really seemed to know his character. The three oldest daughters (Andrea Krider, Christina Leidel, and Sarah Callahan) had great chemistry with one another and with Gill. All of the leads were noteworthy — there was not a weak link in the cast.
As a director, Gill also flourished. The physical movements and interactions between the actors really carried the show. With the exception of “Tradition,” all of the big numbers were strikingly staged, though some of that credit should be given to choreographer Sarah Callahan. The simple set was great as well, utilizing just a few blocks and tables. It placed more focus on the actors and important material at hand.
The most impressive aspect of the production was the actors’ overall performance as an ensemble. I think that must have been what made “Sabbath Prayer” such a pivotal moment — it was when the actors really came together as a powerful ensemble.
This is definitely a production worth seeing. At its core, Fiddler on the Roof is a play about close relationships, about family. An intimate, black box theater actually proved to be, in many ways, a more appropriate place to see the show. It took us away from the typical fluff of the musical and engaged the audience in a truly powerful story about real people and the human struggle to survive with one another in this world. Sometimes old traditions are worth breaking.