Tradition By the Book: “Fiddler On the Roof”

Jeremy Radin (Tevye) and the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” at North Shore Music Theatre thru June 16. Photo © Paul Lyden

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Based on Sholem Aleichem by special permission of Arnold Perl
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Block
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Robert W. Schneider
Music Direction by Miles Plant
Choreography by Josh Assor
Lighting by Jack Melher
Scenic Design by Ryan Howell
Costume Coordination by Kelly Baker
Featuring Jeremy Radin, Alaina Mills, Kathy St. George, Sophie Aknin, Ari Axelrod, Jordan Matthew Brown, Ellie Fishman, Tyler Okunksi

June 4 – June 16, 2024
North Shore Music Theatre
54 Dunham Rd
Beverly, MA  01915

Review by Kate Lew Idlebrook

BEVERALY, Mass. — Fiddler on the Roof first opened on Broadway in 1964, and has been in regular rotation in regional theaters for decades. The musical is full of characters who are simultaneously larger than life yet utterly familiar to anyone with a loud and loving family. The songs are striking and memorable. The script offers audiences a timeless story of a resilient family navigating change and overcoming persecution.

Good theater troupes often can successfully stage such beloved shows, but they have more difficulty breathing new life into such well-worn, popular scripts. This is the case with North Shore Musical Theatre’s recent production. It confidently treads familiar ground but offers few surprises.

This musical is the story of Tevye (Jeremy Radin), a Jewish father trying to raise his five daughters in the small town of Anatevka. Tevye is a man who likes his life, his routines, and his traditions. Unfortunately for him, his daughters don’t share his devotion to what has always been, and they would like him to accept that they want to try something new.

New technology and new tensions with the Russian government threaten to upend life as Tevye, his family, and the village know it. Throughout the play, Tevye talks with God, asking for His guidance and sharing his complaints. Little by little, Tevye and his wife Golde (Alaina Mills) stretch their faith and their imagination to come to terms with how the world is changing, all while holding their family together in the face of such change.

North Shore Music Theatre’s shows tend to be straightforward and by the book. This production is no exception. The acting and the singing are strong, but the play stays within lines that are already drawn. This means the production leans into overly dramatic deliveries for energy. Radin largely avoids melodrama. He brings genuine warmth and affability to a role that lends itself to caricature in less capable hands. By and large, the supporting cast all perform proficiently, but their performances were not as memorable.

This production is staged in the round; the set design is minimal. The cast and the stagehands work together to keep the large props moving quickly and minimize what could be lengthy set changes. The lighting also is unobtrusive and keeps our attention where it needs to be.

This all may sound like damning with faint praise. There are moments in this script which are still capable of resonating with audiences after all these years, especially given the fraught backdrop of current events. A production which could dust off the well-trodden history of this play and find new moments within it could offer a beautiful window into the resiliency and beauty of Russian Jewish culture. While this production may be a good introduction to the source material, too often it feels like a missed opportunity.

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