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Fiddler on the Roof

Barrington Stage Company presents an uneven production of the near-perfect Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock musical.

Brad Oscar in Fiddler on the Roof
(© Kevin Sprague)
If there is such a thing as a masterpiece in musical theater, surely Fiddler on the Roof comes as close as any musical. And despite its sometimes somber subject matter, it has also become one of the most beloved musicals in the theatrical canon.

While the current production at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield does justice to the heavier emotional aspects of the show, it falls down considerably in delivering on the humor.

Gary John La Rosa, who directed and choreographed this production based on the Jerome Robbins original, exhibits a distractingly broad directorial style here, allowing his performers to veer at times into the cartoonish. As a result, the warm playfulness of Joseph Stein's book gets lost amid some rather artificial line readings.

This unsubtle tendency is perhaps most obvious in the performance of Brad Oscar as Tevye, who is all bellow and bluster, reflecting too many shades of Max Bialystock (whom Oscar eventually played in The Producers on Broadway) and not showing enough human connection with his fellow actors.

Indeed, toward the beginning of the show, Oscar seems more concerned with wringing every last laugh out of each scene; as a result much of the abundant humor in the role falls flat. Then, as each of Tevye's daughters presents an ever-increasing challenge to his deeply held faith, Oscar tends to comes off as merely angry versus genuinely torn.

La Rosa does a fine job recreating Robbins' thrilling choreography, especially the rousing bottle dance during the wedding scene, although the normally triumphant "To Life," felt a bit more by-the-numbers.

The near-perfect score by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick is also handled well: "Sabbath Prayer" and "Sunrise, Sunset" are deeply moving and heartfelt, and the "Chavele" ballet is devastating in its simplicity.

The production also has a distracting number of less-than-professional elements, whether it's a laughably obvious fake beard, the overeager arm of a stagehand appearing prematurely from the wings to move a set piece, or numerous cast members inappropriately pulling focus with outsize background chatter and reactions. However, Joanna Glushak as Golde, Tevye's wife, and Stephanie Lynn Mason as Hodel, Tevye's second-oldest daughter, stand out strongly among the supporting cast.

So, once more, Fiddler on the Roof proves to be strong enough to emerge as a powerful experience even in a production that is not as solid as the show deserves.