FIDDLER Closes Out Fall Theater-Going for Students

So we all got dressed up and went to see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Arena Stage on Thursday evening, our last theater-going expedition of the semester. What did we make of it?
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Almost everyone seeing this classic show (celebrating its 50th anniversary) for the first time; many unfamiliar with the show’s iconic songs, one after another they roll out, stupendously, in one of the most amazing first act collection of songs in Broadway history (how’s that for stating the obvious?)… What did we make of book-ending the semester with two musicals——YENTL 10632581_10152669946859883_8759886788855477763_nand FIDDLER——that tell us something about the dynamics of community; of classic story telling (both shows adapted from classic stories by legendary Jewish authors IB Singer and Sholom Aleichem, respectively); plays about marriage, tradition, modernity, and exile. What to make of the portraits we’ve seen on DC stages of the Jewish experience, from FIDDLER, to YENTL, to AWAKE AND SING, to BAD JEWS? That’s quite a trajectory! Who wants to make some meaning of it?
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I open the blog up to these wonderful students who’ve invested so much of themselves in these comments these past 3 months. Perhaps there’ll be one more posting opportunity to reflect on the larger picture — Theater at the cross-roads — Theater approaching the end of a calendar year — Theater aspiring to climb new heights and to remain relevant… Yes, we’ll give ourselves another opportunity to reflect more deeply on the art form and our institutions approaching a new year… For now, we look back and look at the production of a piece of heritage brought lovingly back to us for our entertainment and enlightenment… FIDDLER lives! Let’s appreciate what it still can do so masterfully.
Fiddler on the Roof

42 thoughts on “FIDDLER Closes Out Fall Theater-Going for Students

  1. First, I must admit I am discussing Fiddler on the Roof having seen the show for the first time in DC at Arena Stage’s production. Out of all the shows we’ve seen this season, Fiddler was the only show when, at intermission, I found myself excited for the second act of the play. I’m unsure if this reaction speaks to the quality of Fiddler as a complete show or its specific production at Arena Stage, but Fiddler far and away captured my attention and my mind. Even though I have heard of Fiddler generally and recognized several of the songs throughout, the plot and the characters surprised me. I did not anticipate Tevye to be comical, and I was continuously surprised when he again and again accepted new ways of the world in regards to his daughters and their autonomy. I began to get so used to Tevye updating his beliefs that I found myself resenting him for denying Chava’s decision. It made me question my own ability to update my own traditions. What would you consider to be some common, modern day traditions we are currently updating for – what we may not see now – the better?

    My favorite element of Arena’s production was the set and stage, which was probably my favorite of all the shows we saw. It allowed for vast movement that charted each character’s development, while providing a believable and humble enough space that I could legitimize as the small town.

    In comparison to other characters and plays we have seen this season, I felt Fiddler was one of the most dynamic shows, chock full of characters who experienced real and dramatic change in their developments. Of the plays we have seen, no matter how progressive their characters may have been (I’m thinking of Yentl here), Fiddler’s characters – especially Tevye and his daughters – embodied the progression of society. Despite the “tradition” of their town, practices, and families, they all managed to somehow incrementally defy those norms to create a new future of reality. Many of the shows we saw questioned lines of tradition, from Yentl (women’s rights), to Bad Jews (should the chai go to a man or a woman based on tradition), and even to Marie Antoinette (rhetoric of the French Revolution of overthrowing monarchy), but Fiddler caused the most ruptures and didn’t completely set them straight in a lyrical way. I absolutely loved Fiddler and look forward to seeing it again in the future.

    • I understand the frustrations that you feel towards Tevye. But I think it was very realistic that the play showed this side of Tevye too. He was liberal, more liberal than others in the town, I would argue. But everyone has a limit to tolerance and holding onto a tradition to a certain extent provides us with an opportunity to think over our true core values, even though it may take some time. Because our identities are to an extent linked to our traditions – the tradition of the way we think, the way we observe, the way we receive new ideas. So do we separate traditions from our identities? To the changing world, if we are pressured to change our traditions, how do we identify ourselves? I think these were the questions Tevye were wrestling with.

    • Hi Layne,

      I too saw “Fiddler on the Roof” for the first time at Arena this past Thursday, so I am very much so looking at the play with a “newbie” lens, as well. As the play progressed, I found myself saying, “Oh, I’ve heard of that before,” especially during the musical numbers, “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” It was great to finally see the play that has created so many modern pop culture references. Plus, as you mentioned, Arena’s setting and staging was like no other we have seen this semester (my favorite too!), making the experience of “Fiddler” so much more captivating and memorable.

      In response to your question, I believe one tradition we are “updating” nowadays is the idea of moving in with your significant other before marrying them. In previous generations, it was typically unheard of to live with your special someone before marriage. However, I see more and more of my friends and peers making the leap, sometimes against parents’ wishes. I think this progress in this tradition is for the better. After all, marriage is a HUGE commitment, and getting to know how you live with someone else is beneficial to know before marrying them to avoid potential problems down the road.

      Thanks for your thoughts and insight, Layne!

    • I also really appreciated how Tevye and his daughters added to the advancement of the Anatevka community. While they were all introduced to us as characters concerned with maintaining their old customs and traditions, we get to see each of them break the mold and progress. For this reason, I was also really frustrated when Tevye refused to allow Chava to marry her Fyedka. Even though Chava presented Tevye with a much more difficult situation, it was unsatisfying to see Tevye set up this boundary for his daughter after we had already seen him undergo so much change with his family and community. This also left me questioning the traditions and customs of my family and communities that I hold very seriously.

    • Hey Layne,

      I think I shared the same feeling of disappointment that you did when Tevye decided to reject Chava’s decision and cut her out of his life, especially after he had seemed so progressive when accepting his other daughters’ life decisions. As I mentioned in my comment, the scene in which Chava is standing in the middle of the stage, crying for her father to return, is in my opinion one of the most emotionally-gripping scenes of the show. My confusion about and disappointment towards Tevye’s decision only increased when I saw the obvious pain that his wife was in when she saw Chava again (before leaving the town). However, Tevye did show a change of heart with his daughter, as he wishes her the best before they all leave the town. And though I was upset with Tevye’s initial decision, I can understand that there would be some limitations to the things that he could outright accept. After all, the values he holds closest to him are challenged constantly throughout the play, and so it seems reasonable that at some point he would have an “enough” moment. But, as I mentioned before, he does experience a change of heart, and demonstrates again the progressive, understanding attitude that I came to admire in him throughout the show.

  2. What a wonderful performance by all in Arena Stage’s “Fiddler on the Roof” production. Although I have recognized the play from several pop culture references, I had never seen a production of the play before Thursday night. And, now I have to stop myself from singing the catchy tunes! Hats off to everyone in the cast and crew for introducing me to the “Fiddler” world.

    There’s so much to write about, but I suppose I’ll focus on the dramaturgy note in the program discussing the relationship between tradition and progress. Tradition has an obvious place at the dinner table when discussing “Fiddler on the Roof.” One only need to sit through the first ten minutes of the play and listen to the so aptly named musical number, “Tradition,” to realize how big of a role it has. Even if you are not Jewish (like me), the time of the holidays can surely provoke some family or friend traditions. It then becomes interesting to think about if tradition can play fairly with progress. As the literary manager at Arena Stage points out (shout out to Ms. Linda Lombardi!), tradition and progress are inseparable; they almost form a cycle together. Progress is a reaction to tradition, often times altering that tradition in some way. Therefore, it can be said that progress has the ability to create new traditions. One most certainly sees this unfold onstage as Tevye’s eldest daughters push against the long-standing familial traditions rooted in the Jewish community. They, of course, receive varying degrees of approval from Tevye, but the audience member in today’s society can see how the daughters are paving the way to establishing a new “tradition” of being able to choose whom you marry. This is still not the practice of some countries or religions around the world, but it is definitely more relevant in society than it was in 1905 Anatevka. I do believe the daughters are pretty lucky to have had a father like Tevye, because I imagine not many other Jewish fathers would have been accepting of this new way of thinking about engagements and marriage. I base this off of how Golde and other citizens of Anatevka reacted to the news in the play.

    Once again, terrific job to all of those involved! Brilliant acting, singing, and dancing performed by all. I’m looking forward to seeing other productions of “Fiddler on the Roof” in the future and comparing them to my experience at Arena!

    • TJ the comment that you made saying that you recognized this production in many pop culture references is amazing and something that I instantly noticed with the song that Tevye sang about if he was a rich man because Gwen Stephanie did a cover of this song! How crazy is that!? I never noticed that her song – and thus part of her music career – has been made because of a song in a play about Jewish traditions. This blew my mind and I can definitely see how this play is referenced in many different works and it got me excited because I think that that is a sign of being cultured, but also exciting because it is educational. It reminds me of the time I read George Orwell and could finally understand the Big Brother references that everyone seems to make now. Your comment really peaked my interest. Thanks for the great semester filled with a-MAIZE-ing comments! #Go Blue!

    • Hey TJ,
      I really enjoyed your comment about how tradition and progress and intertwined and that progress can often create new traditions. It really got me to start reflecting on some of my own traditions and if they were a result of some long systemic societal/family belief or if they were a product of more recent changes. I think in areas that I believe are core values to me – perhaps the importance of independence, success, and happiness – come from some amount of tradition in my family. But in other ways we all develop new traditions. Some are small, like starting to watch college football on Saturdays. Others are larger. I recently began having very long discussions with my parents about issue like immigration, gay rights, and voter ID laws. These are issues we all used to have very strong “traditional” beliefs about, and yet we sometimes gain a new perspective. Anyway, thanks for posting this comment. It gave me a lot to think about.

    • TJ, I love your comment that “progress is a reaction to tradition,” and that in making progress the daughters are creating new traditions for their family. Growing up in a super progressive household, my parents totally rejected the rituals of their catholic upbringings. We never went to church, never went out of our way to visit family over the holidays, never watched sports. In a lot of ways, I think I really grew up with a lack of tradition, and that was something I felt like I missed out on as a child. As demonstrated by Tevye’s daughters, it can be liberating to free oneself from traditions that are overbearing. But rebuilding traditions without the support of time and repetition can be difficult to do.

  3. I just noticed how Yentl and Fiddler on the Roof were the book endings of our theatre experience here in Washington DC! I think all the plays we’ve seen pertaining to the Jewish culture were representative of how receptive the American public is in seeing Jewish culture as an active community of the American culture. It is sad to see that this is not the case for many other minority plays. Bad Jews had no problem in bringing in audience outside of the Jewish community. This again strongly suggests how the Jewish narrative is much more accepted in mainstream than before.

    With all this said, Fiddler on the Roof was a marvelous show. Fiddler on the Roof has been a favorite for many community theaters and high school plays and it was through a high school production that I first learned of Fiddler on the Roof. Thanks to the amazing production at Arena stage, and the performance by Jonathan Hadary as Tevye, I was able to see the beauty of this wonderful play that I wasn’t able to know before.

    I still can’t believe how comfortable Jonathan Hadary was on stage. It was something I have never seen before. He was gliding on stage and did not act like an actor. As cliche as it sounds, he truly was Tevye, and it was an amazing performance. His performance made me as an audience also feel at home, very comfortable watching this very exciting and dynamic show.

    All in all, I absolutely loved Fiddler and look forward to seeing it again now that I have a reference point to compare future performances to.

    • Yes, Hadary’s acting was phenomenal. His delivery of the punch lines was very natural. I know what you mean by feeling at home too. He was a conservative dad who was being swept up by the times, and who couldn’t help but adjust with the times and that reminded me of my father.

      I had heard the title of the play several times in the past, but I had never seen it like you had nor did I know what it was about. But I was definitely pleased with what we saw Thursday.

    • Hi Andrea, thanks for your comments. I love how your very first comment made me think more deeply about our theater going experience this semester! It was very interesting of you to note the varying degrees of American receptivity to the Jewish themes we’ve seen. After the play, it also occurred to me that in some ways a lot of the plays we saw incorporated universal themes as much as Jewish ones, which is why they appeal to a much broader audience than just a Jewish one. Fiddler, for example, isn’t something that struck me as an exclusively Jewish play. Rather, it seemed to incorporate a great deal of themes into a setting that involved a Jewish community. I completely agreed with your comment about Jonathan Hadary–he was remarkable to see on stage. He seemed entirely in his element and couldn’t have been more comfortable in his role.

  4. Arena Stage’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” was tremendously entertaining. The physical staging of the production was like no other staging I have witnessed at any other theater.

    There were three different avenues actors entered the stage from: above, below, and diagonally. This unexpected aspect added a level of excitement and thrill to the musical. The scene when Tevye was having a dream was particularly noteworthy in that an unexpected production element was added to the show that took the production to another level. It reminded me of “Wicked” (in specific, the scene where Defying Gravity is being sung and Elphaba is “floating” above the stage). This made sense in “Wicked” as it closes the first act and marks a crucial point in the musical, but in Fiddler it was a bit more unexpected because I did not see this dream sequence as a watershed moment for the musical. This dream sequence where we have the Butcher’s wife rise from the bed was an important way to keep the story moving forward to justify his daughter not marrying Lazar Wolf, a comical element if you will since this is how Tevye decides to deceive.

    Another aspect to this production I enjoyed was the energy in the dance numbers – which was palpable to me as an audience member (I felt inspired to get up and join the actors on stage, though restrained myself for fear of judgement and throwing off the actors). I had a sense the cast was well integrated and jived as the community they were meant to portray in the show.

    Tevye stole the show. John Hadary was humorous and brought the character to life in a way I had not seen before a couple of summer’s ago when I first the saw this show in Pittsburgh. I found myself laughing and looking forward to his presence on stage. His character was conflicted in that he embodied tradition, but not in such an austere fashion. He allowed his first daughter to essentially choose her husband, a more progressive move. But then, he held a grudge against his first daughter. I think more consistency between these two circumstances would have made more sense to me.

    • Juan, I completely agree with you about the stage, but had not thought about the three angle approach you mention above. I also especially loved the scene you mention (and didn’t spoil for future audiences!), as it was my favorite part of the entire play, where I was mesmerized by not only the use of props, but also by the visual representation of this specific entrance of a character. Even though it was not utilized beyond the first scene, I felt the spiral walk way above the stage – representing the roof – provided an accurate framing for the stage itself, making it feel closed in yet, at the same time, wide open.

      I also agree with you about Tevye. I would love to see other actors perform this role, because my opinion is based on this performance alone. However, I feel I would still love John Hadary because of his energy, and I completely bought his comedic bits.

  5. I will start by saying that I have seen Fiddler on the Roof before. However, I have only seen it on film, and never on the stage. I’ve always been told that the production on stage outshines the film version, and this production absolutely lived up to that sentiment. I’m not sure if it was Arena Stage’s specific performance or not, but between the iconic songs, the compelling drama, the entertaining comedy, and the enchanting dance, this show blew me away.

    One specific aspect that I enjoyed about this performance was the circular stage. Although it made it a bit difficult to hear dialogue at times, it was an overall excellent way to view this story. It helped the audience to see various views of each scene, providing a unique look into the action. I also enjoyed the times when the actors utilized the staircases that went into the audience, or the top railing that went around the entire theater. These aspects also helped to connect the audience with the scenes, and made the audience feel more immersed in the action.

    In addition to the physical setup of the play, the acting was excellent. I thought the actors did a wonderful job combining comedy, singing, and drama. We also saw a few actors from previous shows that we have seen, such as from Yentl and Awake and Sing, which was nice. I have a feeling that part of the reason the actors were able to so effortlessly perform the work was because the story on its own is excellent. It combines the sentiments behind strong tradition with the struggles of change and adaptation. It was very satisfying to not only see a strong patriarch recognize what would make his children happy, but to see him adapted accordingly to make their lives better.

    Overall, this was an excellent way to end this semester. It touched on issues of identity that we have grappled with all semester, and it did so in a way that was classically entertaining in every way.

    • Stephen,
      I agree, the circular stage was a really awesome way to tell this story. It made me feel like I was really looking in from above and watching this play unfold in the village. The actors did an amazing job of making sure every angle of the stage was covered, and no matter where you were sitting there was something for you to see. The actors also conquered the difficult task of taking serious and painful topics and making them comedic and powerful. Great last play for this semester!

    • Hi Stephen,
      I too really enjoyed that the stage was in the center of the room. I think the actors did a very good job at both projecting their voices and moving around the stage so that all sides of the audience could see them. I agree that the actors’ ability to use the staircases in the audience helped make the audience members feel more immersed in the story. In addition, one of my favorite features of the set was the trap door in the middle of the stage that could move up and down. This made the dream scene really cool because the ghost of the grandmother was able to rise super high above the bed, creating a very dramatic and frightening effect.

  6. “Tradition, tradition..!” It has been three days since we saw Fiddler on the Roof, but I still can’t get that line out of my head. That is a clear indication of how instrumental the music was in telling the story. Singing the catchy “Tradition, tradition” line repeatedly made it hard to lose focus on the fact that the progressive changes in the village and family came at the expense of long held traditions. Although at times they struggled to explain those traditions, they still regarded them highly and had a hard time breaking away from them. This dynamic is one that many can relate to both individually and collectively. I remember growing up in Nigeria with very rich traditions and holding on dearly to many customs. As I grew older and my family traveled all over, many of those traditions have been challenged, and as a result, I observe them differently, or abandon them completely. That, of course, has its own impact on my sense of identity, as it might suggest a watering down of my relationship with my culture and those traditions. It is an issue that I continue to try to figure out how to address in my life, as I saw the
    characters in Fiddler on the Roof do too.

    One of the aspects of theater that I came to analyze more throughout this session is the significance of cast- audience interaction in any given piece. More specifically, I have enjoyed seeing how the cast incorporates the audience in the story- telling process. I love that Fiddler on the Roof incorporates that through the monologues that the father has, addressing the audience. Throughout, I found myself wondering what I would do whenever he stepped out of reality to contemplate his daughters’ fate. His thought- provoking, and humorous asides helped we, the audience members, connect with him and the family more, and to also feel more engaged.

    Overall, such a lovely production! It kept me hooked throughout, and every scene earned the applause it got afterwords.

    • Kay Kay,
      Similar to you, I could not stop humming the “tradition, tradition” line in my head and your post brings it all together. It makes sense that that is the line stuck in my head because that was one of the main parts in the story and the foundation for their family’s dynamics. Much like I could not stop thinking about the tradition song, the characters in the play could not stop living by tradition. Although some of the daughters were eventually able to break away from traditional love, their parents never stopped pushing tradition and were upset when they broke free.

  7. Out of all the shows we saw this semester, I connected most strongly with Fiddler on the Roof. I think it’s because I have many fond memories of the show, from music and band classes spent watching the film adaptation, to school musical productions, to one of my favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls, which features the musical (an elementary school production starring a grown man as Tevye).

    It had been a while since my last viewing, however, and I was struck by how differently I perceived the show now that I’m older. What used to be merely an entertaining few hours turned into a poignant commentary on changes within a family and community. Never before had “Sunrise, Sunset” hit me so strongly!

    I believe much of the credit goes to Arena Stage and their amazing location. With so many entrances & exits, the audience was literally in the middle of the show, thoroughly engrained in the action. It felt very personal and familiar, even though it’s probably the play most unlike our lives today. I think this production showed me most clearly how much our own personal narratives can affect the way we perceive theater.

    I also enjoyed having two actors from previous shows in the cast, especially the actress who played Yenta. I thought it added in physical reminders that everything we saw is connected and made those connections hard to ignore. All in all, this was a wonderful way to close the semester, on a high note that makes you think!

  8. While I had seen a production of Fiddler on the Roof before in high school, I did not fully appreciate or understand the individual stories and the dramas of the characters. In this first production I saw, the staging of the characters remained simple and static throughout the story. The staging and movement of the characters throughout Arena Stage’s production brought the story to life much more seamlessly for me.

    I really enjoyed the multiple levels of the stage and the four corners through which the characters could enter and exit. The paths that each character took through each scene, how they entered and exited, and from which parts of the stage they came created a much more lively production than the first one I saw. For example, the fiddler’s movement throughout the production gave his character much more energy than it had in the first one.

    One of the scenes that the staging in this production greatly transformed for me was the scene in which Tevye pretends to have had a dream in which Golde’s grandmother and Lazar Wolf’s wife visit him. It was very different to see Fruma-Sarah, Lazar’s wife, emerge from the middle of the couple’s bed and rise up to hover over the characters. Her height and positioning on the stage gave her a much more importance and power in the scene. The second scene that really changed my view of the story in this production was when Hodel and her father wait for her train to Siberia. The simple staging and the emptiness of the stage brought my attention to Hodel and Tevye’s relationship itself. The lack of distractions on the stage helped me to understand the scene much better.

    The staging of the characters and the setting of the stage in this production transformed and enlivened the story for me. I really appreciated how each scene’s staging gave the story more meaning. Unlike the staging of the musical in the first production I saw, this production’s staging added to the story and brought out the dynamic nature of the characters. It was interesting to see how attention to detail in the setup and staging of a scene can be so impactful on how the story is understood by the audience.

  9. The opening scene to “Fiddler on the Roof” actually got me excited about the play. Usually the beginnings are usually the part of the play that I like the least because at that point I am trying to get myself ready, and I’m trying to make the necessary connections needed to enjoy the play. However, this one grabbed my attention immediately with the “Traditions” number. The song was fun and it set the play up nicely.

    One of the most interesting things about this play was the fact that it was centered around tradition. Men and women had their specific roles. Children waited for their parents to choose who they’d marry and the decisions were pretty final. However, it struck me that the father, even though he thinks highly of the traditions they’ve always practiced, was actually progressive for the time period he was in. The fact that he let his children marry whomever they wanted (the first two any) was pretty impressive to me. He understood love, even though he didn’t marry for love, but he was still more open to it than a typical Jewish father probably would have been at that time.

    The actor who played the father also did a phenomenal job delivering his lines. He was funny, and he was relatable. I could actually see my dad in him. This was an excellent end to the season. The acting was great, the staging was creative, and the musical scores were fun.

  10. I really enjoyed this show and could not stop singing and wishing that I could perform the dance moves that those guys with the bottles on top of their heads did! I loved the culture specific dialogue and traditions. I actually wrote my paper on tradition and how that is what builds a community and once that tradition is broken the community falls apart and into an argument that is the attempt to fix it. I feel like had I seen this before I wrote the paper it would be a perfect candidate for my thesis! It follows my ideas of conflict and tradition seamlessly. Anyways, the traditions of the Jewish culture are fascinating and really intriguing because of how different they are to my heritage as a Mexican-American.

    I was extremely interested in the tradition that I told my one Jewish friend – right after the play – and I quote “Sam, after seeing Fiddler I need to go to your wedding! I call dibs on being one of the guys to lift you up in the chair.” Was this culturally insensitive? I am not sure, but because I was genuinely interested and he was my friend I think not, but I loved the traditions so much I had to let him know. Afterwards we met up and talked about the Jewish religion and culture and we stayed up until three in the morning. I was fascinated and this is what theater has the capacity and power to do; get people talking about things that they would not otherwise talk about.

    I think that there should be more components of education that allows people from different backgrounds – religions, cultures, and so much more – to experience the diversity instead of simply talking about it. Yes, I think that they should talk about it as well, but sometimes it is easier to spark a culturally sensitive conversation if the two parties have a general idea of what the cultures traditions are, then they can talk about why those traditions exist.

    • James,
      I completely agree with you! Since I currently attend a Catholic school, I don’t really encounter many people of Jewish faith. Living in Washington D.C. and attending these plays have really opened my eyes to a different culture and I love it. This play in particular was great as it showed various aspects of Jewish culture and the importance of tradition (the upbeat catchy songs and impressive dancing also made this learning experience great). I also wish that there was a way for us to encourage everyone to learn about different cultures but that would be extremely difficult to do. Not everyone has an open-mind and wish to be with and learn about people that are different than themselves. I think that plays like “Fiddler on the Roof” would be a good start though!

  11. Fiddler on the Roof was a great show end our semester. I enjoyed all of the music and I loved that the audience was seated all around the stage. I had never seen a production of Fiddler on the Roof before, so I didn’t know the storyline at all. Seeing the evolution of Tevye from being rooted in his traditional ways to becoming accepting of the changes life has thrown at him was really amazing. I was also very inspired by his daughters’ independence. Choosing their own husbands was something that just wasn’t done at the time, they were pioneers who stood up for their own lives and to be with the men that they loved, regardless of social status, location, or religion.
    There were a few examples of Tevye’s growing acceptance of new lifestyles that I thought were really beautiful. When he looks into his daughters eyes and realizes that they are in love, he allows them to be with the men they have chosen for themselves. Even though he declared that his daughter who married outside of the faith was dead to him, he eventually made amends with it and spoke to her as they were leaving town. Although it was a simple gesture, it showed he realized that love and family is the most important thing. Although tradition was the most important thing at the start of the play, traditions were eventually broken until it became clear that family has to stick together even if the times change.
    A scene that really stuck out to me was the dream sequence. It was so crazy when that lady popped out of the bed! I wasn’t expecting such an abstract scene in a play that was so rooted in tradition. I loved how all of the ensemble also had crazy makeup and masks on, it really made me feel like I was in Tevye’s dream.

  12. I am a bit ashamed to say I had never seen Fiddler before this performance, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I must say I had no trouble at all relating to the young girls trying to find their perfect husbands. Growing up in a very traditional household myself, it was often hard to reconcile my own ideals in a man with theirs. That’s not to say that parents don’t have their children’s happiness at heart – just that we should all be aware that we prioritize things differently. I could understand that Tevye and his wife wanted Tzeitel to marry a rich Jew; it certainly would make her life easier. But more than that, I’m proud of them for accepting her choice. When it comes down to it, people should be free to make their own life choices, even if it means breaking tradition.

    I also enjoyed the progression of the daughters from choosing their own husband, to choosing a husband who’s an outsider, to choosing a husband who’s not even Jewish! I think it took a lot of strength for Tevye to deal with increasingly larger departures from Jewish tradition. He seemed so fixated on staying in their community, but of course when they had to move, I think he realized that your religion, your tradition, and your family are things that you can take with you (provided your daughter doesn’t run off to Siberia).

    Finally, I found the larger context of the setting to play and interesting role as well. The fiddler, I believe, was supposed to represent the precarious position of Jews in this society. And at their happiest moments, moments of celebration and dancing, the Russian men would put an abrupt halt to it and remind us through the show that life is not easy for Jews during this time. No matter what their personal and family struggles, there is a greater force continuously threatening to put a permanent end to their traditions. Perhaps people should be allowed free choice to depart from their traditions, but the choice certainly shouldn’t be one that is made for them.

  13. This was the first time I saw Fiddler on the Roof and I thought it was a wonderful production. My favorite scene was by far the dream scene, because of all the costumes and the woman rising out of the bed, which I was not suspecting. At first, I was very confused about what was going on, but I quickly became amazed at all the music and choreography happening at once, and how Tevya was basically “improving” his dream to his wife.

    As a young women in society, the musical really spoke to me, with regards to marriage. Although I understand this play was set many years ago in a very traditional Jewish society, I hated that Tevya’s daughters had to prove their marriages to him. He did not believe that their love for their husbands was genuine, and he would not even speak to one of his daughters because he did not like who she was in love with. I wish he would have supported his daughter’s choices and believed that their love was real instead of arguing with them.

    One aspect of Arena Stage that I did not like was the setup of the stage. When I first sat down, I thought having the stage in the middle of the room with the audience circling around was going to be cool, but as they play went on, I often found it difficult to see the actors. Because the actors were not always facing in my direction, I missed many of the smaller gestures and facial expressions or the actors that I would have liked to see. This was also disappointing because many times the facial expressions and body language of a character really contributes to who they are, but when you cannot see them it’s harder to get a fuller grasp on who their character is.

    • Hey Meaghan, I agree with you that although the play is set in a more traditional time, it is frustrating that they were so attached to tradition to the point that it was hurting their relationships(father- daughter relationship, that is). As much as i find that frustrating too, i can’t help but acknowledge the fact that we see elements of that in society today. I turn specifically to the idea that our relationships must be approved of by others to make this point. Looking around today, even if not family, society still places a high expectations on relationships that are perfect(sometimes even traditional) and can be approved of by others. It is something we still struggle with today and in our immediate communities!

      Also, i was so impressed with how they used the circular stage in the middle of the audience, so your comment really surprised me. I guess i was not taking into account the fact that some people may have been in places that hindered full viewing, hence full appreciation of all the drama.

  14. Our trip to see “Fiddler on the Roof” was a fantastic way to end this class. Having seen an unspectacular version of this play once before, I was not too excited to see it again. To my surprise, however, Arena Stage’s production of “Fiddler” was captivating and original. This version was full of comedy, emotion, and a lot of musical talent. One of my favorite scenes from “Fiddler” was during the wedding when the men were dancing while balancing bottles on their hats. In fact, the dancing looked so fun and lively throughout the entire play – I wish people danced like that at parties these days!

    One particular aspect of the play that really stood out to me was how Tevye was able to pause the scene whenever he wanted to have a debate with himself. For example, when each of his daughters came to him and asked to marry a man, Tevye would weigh the pros and cons of each decision while the other characters on stage remained frozen. I don’t know if this phenomenon was unique to Arena Stage’s production of “Fiddler,” but I don’t recall seeing this in the first version of this play that I saw. I think this addition to “Fiddler” really emphasized the theme of tradition vs progressive thinking.

    This play definitely took me back to the first production we saw this semester – “Yentl,” and not just because the actress who portrayed her also happened to be among the “Fiddler” cast. The two productions both include the emergence of progressive thinking in regards to the equality of women. In Yentl’s society, women are forbidden from studying the Torah, so Yentl disguises herself as a man so that she is able to study. In “Fiddler,” Tevye must decide between the town’s tradition and the happiness of his daughters when it comes to choosing their husbands. From “Yentl” to “Fiddler,” and everything in between, we’ve had an amazing opportunity being able to see a unique variety of productions this semester in DC.

  15. Seeing “Fiddler on the Roof” at Arena Stage this past Thursday was one of, if not the best, theatre experiences that I have had this semester. Like many others in the class, I had never seen the work before – whether it be on stage or through film – though I was aware of the cultural and artistic significance that the show possesses. Thus, the performance presented by the cast and crew of Arena Stage was my first exposure to this classical musical, and I was not disappointed.

    Something I especially appreciated about “Fiddler” was the effortless and thoroughly entertaining manner in which the musical explored complicated issues such as tradition, societal norms, family, religion, and many others. Connecting the show to Yentl, our first theatrical experience, I thought it interesting that both works explored ways in which women were breaking free from the restraints and boundaries imposed upon them by society. Yentl decides to defy the men and women in her life that tell her that she cannot study the Scriptures, and even breaks down sexuality boundaries by taking on the identity of a man. The daughters of Tevye also break down societal boundaries, taking their lives out of the hands of their father and the town matchmaker and putting them into their own. Especially given the time and locations that these works are set in, the empowerment that these women experience and the steps forward that they take in the face of endless backlash and disapproval from their neighbors and even families is particularly moving.

    I also enjoyed the unique way in which Tevye tried to work out the conflicts he encountered with his daughters and their suitors. His back and forth commentary – while the rest of the cast was frozen and silent – was not only hilarious, but deeply moving as it portrayed a man who was seriously grappling with issues that affected the most precious things in his life – his family, his religion and his tradition. For me, one of the most emotionally gripping parts of the show was when Tevye decided that he must cut his daughter out of his life for having married an outsider. His daughter stands in the middle of the stage, a single spotlight on her, and screams for her father to return to her as the rest of the town watches from the outskirts of the stage. This was the first time that Tevye ultimately decided against one of his daughters, and the following scenes between them are heartbreaking. However, by the end of the show Tevye shows that his daughter still holds an irreplaceable place in his heart, as he wishes her the best before she and her husband leave the town.

    Thus, “Fiddler on the Roof” was a thrilling, moving theatre experience, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see it performed with such skill and quality by the cast and crew of Arena Stage.

    • Dominic, I completely agree with you about how the work really helps to empower women. It is definitely nice to see this message come across in plays and other works of art, but especially so when the work is set in a particularly conservative or traditional setting. Taking a look into this traditional Jewish town allows people to appreciate culture, religion and tradition, while simultaneously allowing them to re-examine what constraints these types of settings impose. Overall, I think the audience gains not only an understanding, but an appreciation for those that try to balance tradition and their own wants. It is certainly difficult, but this story helps to illuminate this for the audience.

    • Dominic,

      I really appreciate your comparison of Fiddler on the Roof to Yentl. Yentl broke traditional female roles, which her father was partly supportive of by teaching her in the first place, but ultimately he would not let her pursue studies and sided against what his daughter wanted. Fiddler ends on a much more positive note, where Tevye despite his hesitations and even extreme opposition to his daughters’ choices ultimately lets them follow their hearts. While these are similar dynamics, I think it was much more satisfying for us as a modern audience to see the outcome in Fiddler on the Roof.

  16. As a few people have mentioned, I too viewed Fiddler with a fresh set of eyes. I, of course, recognized many of the songs but I had never seen the show in its entirety. That being said, I have no context with which to compare this performance, but I absolutely loved it. I thought the circular theater was perfect for this show. In the opening act Tevya describes the “circles” of the community, which made the stadium like seating intentional right of the bat.

    The production value of this play was amazing. First of all, the size of the cast was astounding. There were at least 25 actors on the stage in some of the larger scenes. Then the stage itself was amazing. The small circular panel that allowed for scene changes, bringing up different props and the audience into new locations, was so clever. It allowed the scene to change without people coming on stage to change the props around, which let the audience to stay in the world of the Anatevka. The dream scene really took me by surprise and captured my attention. I actually looked down to write something in my notebook when the ghost of Fruma-Sarah rose from the bed, so I was completely unaware of how she had appeared on stage. It took me a minute to figure out how she could have risen from the bed, but it was a really amazing entrance. Also, the costumes in this scene were the perfect combination of beautiful and creepy. I think the production toed the line of excess, but I felt they did a good job of making sure the props and special effects were intentional and added to the story.

    • Rosii,
      Great observation about the connection between the circular stage itself and the “circles of community!” I was so intrigued by the idea of the arena stage and thought about it a lot while writing my own response and I never thought to make that connection. Your comment also reminded about the staging of the dream scene, one of the most complex scenes of the entire show that I completely forgot about when reflecting back on the show. I thought the dream scene was one of the most interesting scenes of this production. From the productions I’ve seen, they did not take this scene to the level of extravagance that this one did. However, that extravagance did not seem out of place. The animal masks, odd clothing, blue fiddle, and Fruma-Sarah rising out of the bed all worked because this level of absurd weirdness is exactly how vivid dream, or rather nightmares, would look like. It was such a fun scene to watch and I felt really added to the production value of the show!

    • Rosii,

      The size of the cast was the first thing I noticed about this play too– just looking at the program, the cast list went on for pages, compared to all the other plays we have seen where it has usually been fewer that ten people. Though I’ve never been involved with theater production, I imagine it must be much more challenging to put on a clean production with so many people involved.

      The round stage was something that I saw as both an advantage and an obstacle. I like the idea of them, and I frequently saw shows at the ACT Theater in Seattle which is smaller but set up similarly. But in this case at a few times it was hard for me to hear, partly because I could not see the faces of the actors who were talking.

  17. As someone who has seen Fiddler on the Roof multiple times before, I had mixed feelings about attending another performance at the end of this semester. Far from being disappointed or underwhelmed by my familiarity with the play, I thoroughly enjoyed Arena Stage’s production last Thursday. Not only did it hit all the right notes in terms of the classic themes and songs of past productions, but it presented the familiar material in a new and exciting way. I found myself engaged with the play from the very first moment when Tevye began his opening lines. His question to the audience, “sounds crazy, no?” sets the tone for a play rich in tradition, culture, and timeless themes rendered universally applicable to the human experience. This last point is something that struck me most clearly in the final moments of Thursday’s production. Fiddler on the Roof is not just a Jewish play. Rather, it should appeal to any thoughtful person interested in theater and the deeper questions of life. As others have noted in the comments above, it is interesting to note Tevye’s progression throughout the play as each of his daughters deviates from the traditional Jewish norms of the community. They do so in progressively more flagrant ways, culminating when his third daughter marries outside the Jewish faith. While Tevye refuses on a fundamental level to condone this, his love for his daughter ultimately prevents him from entirely shunning her in the manner that, we are lead to believe, was typical of the time. While I cannot speak with any degree of authority on whether or not it was correct for him to isolate her in the way that he did, I wholeheartedly approved of his inability to entirely shut her out of his life. In this way, a theme of personal development might be said to be central to the play. It is by no means the only one, however, and works in tandem with other complex ideas presented in the engaging songs and superb acting of Arena’s production. Ultimately, I couldn’t have picked a more interesting work to finish the semester on, and it served to highlight my own enjoyment and development as a theater goer over the course of this semester.

  18. “Fiddler on the Roof” was one of my favorite plays this semester with Bad Jews. I knew that this play would be amazing because I had read the original play in high school, watched the movie, and I loved it. The cast was full of rich and funny characters which made this play. This play was very easy to follow and the singing and dancing was quite enjoyable. The overall tone of this play was joyous and cheerful which made me like the play even further.

    I also want to applaud the actor who portrayed Tevya (Jonathan Hadary) as I believe that he did an excellent job with the role. He acted out every scene with confidence and never overdramatized it which made this play actually quite believable. His quirky personality combined with his ability to draw out humor from the more intense situations in the play made Tevya one of my favorite characters in the play. His character was the most interesting to me as he had the biggest struggle with tradition and identity. I think it was great that the play opened up with the musical number “Tradition” to stress to the audience that culture was a huge part of their community and customs or else we wouldn’t have understood. From the complicated marriage of his daughters to being evicted from his homeland, he really had to change his traditionalist ideals with the new times.

    I frequently felt bad for Tevya for the situations that his daughter’s put him through. In particular, the scenes where Hodel left to Siberia and when Chava elopes with Fyedka were really tough to see play out as a viewer. I’m very happily surprised that he accepted the world as evolving and the need for some customs and rituals to be left behind. To be quite honest, I’m not even sure that my father would be as accepting as he was on many of the issues brought upon him (which is saying something as this play was set in 1905).

  19. I was one of the many of us who had never experienced Fiddler before; needless to say I was blown away. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of a small Jewish village in early 1900s Russia and the journeys each of the characters took. I was especially fascinated with Tevye’s own journey, and the role the Fiddler played in Tevye’s development.

    The performance opens with the Fiddler literally playing on the roof, and Tevye addresses the audience about the Fiddler. At this point, everyone had told me how wonderful Fiddler is; I was not so sure. It was a bold piece of playwriting to begin the show that way. However, the Fiddler quickly became an instrumental part of the story, while never quite taking center stage. The Fiddler was intimately involved in nearly every scene, and yet one had to specifically look for him on stage. The only scenes in which the Fiddler was the focal point were with Tevye, when the two of them interacted.

    Midway through the story, the Fiddler plays at Tevye in a taunting sense. It is at this point that Tevye was most conflicted, as he was dealing with the impending engagements of his daughters; some with his blessing, one without. I am still not quite sure what to make of the Fiddler and Tevye’s relationship at this point, but it seems as though the Fiddler is trying to force Tevye to see the folly of his own ways. Tevye alienates his family as he refuses to even consider one of his daughters to be alive when she runs off with a Russian.

    At the end of the story, when all of the residents of the town are packing up and leaving, Tevye and the Fiddler once again share the stage. Now, Tevye beckons for the Fiddler to join him on his journey; here, Tevye recognizes how important the Fiddler is to his own development and to keeping his family together. He finally acknowledge his daughter and wished her well, and he had the daunting task of leading his family to a new set of challenges. Here he fully understands his duty and responsibility as the Papa, and the Fiddler is essential to that journey.

  20. Embarrassingly enough, the only exposure I’d had to Fiddler on the Roof prior to this play was through a brief excerpt in Gilmore Girls. Though I did think that Kirk made a great Tevye, it was fantastic to finally see this play that has become the root of so many cultural references. It is easy to see why the play has been so popular and highly acclaimed throughout the past half-century. Despite being focused on a very specific community, it makes itself relatable through humor. As Tevye laments the loss of his traditions and the fact that he is poor, the audience can relate to the feelings he’s going through even if they’re applying them to different situations.
    I was surprised at how easily Tevye backed down from his stances. I would’ve expected a man who believed so fiercely in his traditions to be more forceful with his daughters that they follow the path he has set out. The fact that he backed down so easily made me feel like it wasn’t the traditions and rules that he valued in the first place. It seemed that above all, Tevye valued the happiness of his family. Tevye is the most endearing pushover. His values, prioritizing the happiness of his family over their customs and traditions, reminds me much more of a modern parent in America than of one in Russia in the early 1900s.
    For me, in contrast to the experience that it seems like a lot of my peers had, the second act was not nearly as enjoyable as the first act. When more political themes became prevalent and people started fleeing the town, I became less engrossed. The initial fun and humor that initially drew me in seemed to gradually fade out of the play as the plot brought on more major changes and further shook up the ways of the village.

  21. Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite musicals and it was the show I was looking forward to seeing the most this semester. Arena Stage did not disappoint and from the first cast harmony during “Tradition” I felt the rush that reminded me how much I love musicals and how much I love theater.
    I was first struck by the casting of Tevye. In the few productions I’ve seen of Fiddler on the Roof and and based on Zero Morstel who played Tevye in the original Broadway production of Fiddler, Tevye was a large, portly man, whose large figure matched his large stage presence and lively spirit. When Jonathan Hadary first walked on stage I was curious and a bit thrown as I had a predetermined image of what I expected Tevye to look like. However, I thought Jonathan Hadary was a brilliant Tevye! He captured Tevye’s big spirit and commanding yet kind demeanor. Tevye is such an iconic, classic character and in my opinion that image lives on in this production.

    I also thought the staging was very interesting. Fiddler on the Roof is not only a show about tradition; it is a classic Broadway musical that has been traditionally staged for decades. I was very excited to see a staging on a different type of stage. This production showed me how well the musical lends itself to an arena theater. By not having to cheat out and constantly face one side of the audience, the whole staging seemed more natural. The actors could face each other or practically any other direction and were still visible to some part of the audience. It felt as if we were getting a true look into a community and home (particularly evident in “Sabbath Prayer”). Additionally, the choreography was amazing! At practically any given moment during a dance sequence there was someone facing every side of the audience, it was incredibly intricate but came across as seamless.
    I felt this production was a perfect show to end our semester!

    • I too, was most looking forward to this production and am glad it came at the end. I hadn’t thought to compare so overtly the staging of this production with the others I’d seen, but you’re definitely spot on with your observation. I never really felt like I was watching a traditional (haha) show. Instead, it felt very real, as if this was a very elaborate recreation, if that makes sense.

      I also appreciated your observations about Tevye. I though it was especially interesting how contrasting the body types were between him and his wife, who definitely had a large personality. I alway like to think however, that this work shows us Tevye’s coming of age, if you will, as a man, a Jew, and a father.

  22. I really loved Fiddler on the Roof and felt it was the perfect performance to end the semester with. I was familiar with the play before this class and was really looking forward to seeing a live production, but I was not prepared to be so blown away by this cast! Firstly, the space was very unusual for this play; the circular wooden stage with a stone staircase going underground was not what I was expecting. Instead of the typical setting of a little house or a village backdrop, the minimalism of the stage and the way the audience wrapped around the performers on all sides made the setting feel more intimate. The small village of Anatevka where everyone knows everyone else and tradition is the law of the land came to life as the audience was literally drawn into this tight circle.
    Fiddler is also renowned for some of the most iconic musical numbers and choreography, and this production certainly delivered. I was thoroughly impressed with the talented cast from beginning to end. Every role was cast perfectly, every song sounded better than I remembered, and every difficult dance number left me speechless. Of course when discussing the music of the play, the Fiddler has to be noted, especially in this performance. Even without any lyrics, with a darkened stage and no one but Tevye on stage to hear him, the Fiddler was always able to communicate using only his fiddle. When the play turned happy and uplifted, the Fiddler clued in the audience. When Tevye was being fanciful and daydreaming of wealth, the Fiddler was there to listen and respond. Most importantly though, whenever Tevye was forced to choose between tradition and the happiness of his children, the Fiddler was there. The Fiddler always seemed to remind Tevye and the audience about the tradition and roles that accompanied this group of Russian Jews by playing the notes of the wonderful opening number all through the play. At different moments in the play, the Fiddler and Tevye had a give and take relationship in which they would switch off between leading and following each other. The last scene, when everyone in Anatevka are going their separate ways, Tevye beckons and the Fiddler follows him, still playing the notes from the song about tradition. I think this was meant to show that despite Tevye conceding the “rights of the papa” when it came to his daughters’ marriages, he was still a faithful Jew and he would still follow the traditions of his faith always. I remember when I watched the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof as a littler girl, I was sometimes unsettled because it seemed to me Tevye was slowly giving in as his faith was eroded throughout the play. This isnt the case at all though, and the Fiddler is there the entire time to let us know.

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