Chicago Theatre Review
Soaring Beyond the Rooftops
Jim Corti rings down the curtain of his second, highly successful season at Aurora’s beautiful Paramount Theatre with a robust, beautifully designed and professionally acted remounting of yet another classic from Broadway’s Golden Age. Joseph Stein’s dramatic adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s stories about Tevye, a Jewish peasant milkman, his family, friends and neighbors, all trying to survive poverty, oppression and change in turn-of-the-century Russia, is one of the most often-produced and best-loved musicals of all time. Filled with beautiful music by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, this show could simply be presented as written with confidence. But that’s not Mr. Corti’s style.
While most productions unfold in a relaxed, leisurely pace, letting the story gently flow over the audience, Corti injects a driving urgency to his production, as if the changes looming on the horizon for Anatevka’s residents are already being sensed as the show opens.
“Tradition,” the musical’s brilliant, attention-grabbing opening number, immediately defines the theme of the play. In Mr. Corti’s skilled hands, this number also initially establishes the town’s anxious resistance to change, foreshadowing the revolutionary adjustments that are to come.
These changes begin when Tzeitel, Tevye’s eldest daughter (played beautifully by Kelley Abell), and her meek suitor Motel the tailor (well-acted and sung by Paramount favorite, Skyler Adams) proclaim their love for each other. Going over the head of Yente, the Matchmaker (lovably played by the eternally youthful Renee Matthews) and, more importantly, the papa, they ask to be married with Tevye’s blessing. This ignites a chain of events, including the breaking of a verbal agreement, men dancing with women, questioning the importance of love over political and religious beliefs and culminating in the Czarist occupation of the little village. All the musical numbers and most of the book scenes charge through like a runaway train concluding with the musical’s touching finale. In it the titular Fiddler (played with musical artistry by Mark Agnor), the personification of the traditions to which Tevye clings for strength and comfort, is invited to join his family in their exodus to America.
And in true theatrical tradition, where the show must go on, Tevye is being performed by the understudy (due to lead actor Peter Kevoian’s illness). He is one of Chicago’s acting/singing greats: David Girolmo. Unlike Zero Mostel’s jolly old elf or Topol’s almost business-like milkman, Mr. Girolmo, who will return to his original role of Lazar Wolf for the second weekend, brings energy, warmth and a genuine humanity to his Tevye. His “If I Were a Rich Man” stops the show, while his beautiful voice caresses ballads like “Sabbath Prayer,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and the affecting, “Little Chavaleh.” He is nicely matched by Iris Leiberman’s sharp-tongued Golde, the real power driving Tevye’s milk cart. While Tevye has dreams of wealth and being a respected holy scholar, Golde’s dreams simply involve good marriages and happy lives for their five daughters.
The cast includes some of Chicago’s finest vocalists and dancers and features the excellent Jazmin Gorsline and Brooke Singer as daughters Hodel and and Chava. Their delightful “Matchmaker” number with Kelley Abell reveals their collective, if humorously depicted, fear of an arranged marriage. Young Kiev, tutor and revolutionary, Perchik, is beautifully played by rising Chicago star Jim DeSelm. Expert vocalist Brandon Moorhead does well as Fyedka, the young Russian soldier in love with Chava, and provides one of the shows high points in the joyous barroom
anthem, “To Life.”
Choreographer Gordon Peirce Schmidt leaves his own mark (no flying mops to be found in this “Matchmaker”) while still paying homage to the work of Jerome Robbins. Michael Keefe’s musical direction, including his full, rich pit orchestra, truly makes this show sing reminding audiences that they don’t write songs like this any more. And an atmospheric, flexible setting by Kevin Depinet, with projections by the talented Mike Tutaj (watch the sky for his beautiful Northern Lights), along with Melissa Torchia’s authentic costumes, provide the icing on the cake.
While lesser productions of this much-loved musical treasure simply bring the Fiddler up onto the Roof, Jim Corti’s magnificent production makes his Fiddler soar into the heavens.
by Colin Douglas
Presented Wednesdays through Sundays, March 6-24, by The Paramount Theatre
23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL
For tickets call 630-896-6666 or go to www.ParamountAurora.com
For more informatin about this and other shows go to www.theatreinchicago.com