CEDAR CITY Six notes, played by a single fiddle, are unmistakable. As we get introduced to the village of Anatevka, the townsfolk dance, arms in the air, singing about tradition.
It's the opening to "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Utah Shakespearean Festival and it should be the first of many times you get chills.
"Fiddler" opened on Broadway in 1964 and was the first musical to break the 3,000-performance barrier a record held for a decade. In numerous revivals, the Tony Award-winning musical about family, love, loyalty and, of course, tradition, still resonates.
This production is no exception, thanks to director and choreographer Jim Christian, who is working at the festival for the first time. A faculty member at Weber State University, he has been a regular at many theaters along the Wasatch Front and regionally, as well.
Directing a piece that can often get bogged down in its weighty issues, Christian has kept the pace moving quickly.
Matthew Henerson takes on the role of Tevye, the poor milkman with five daughters and the show's narrator. It's a big role, and Henerson is up to the challenge. With nice warmth, and a believable concern for his family and friends, Henerson is endearing.
The daughters were darling, with very nice harmonies during "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," (Melinda Pfundstein, Lisa Ferris and Katie Whetsell); Ferris' "Far From the Home I Love," was also a standout.
"Do You Love Me?" was charming and sweet sung between Tevye and his wife, Golde, played with much humor and warmth by festival regular Carole Healey.
The other standout of the production is the choreography, also by Christian. With a fresh spin on some of the traditional moves, as well as plenty of his own, the dancing was a joy to watch it's only a shame there weren't more dance numbers.
There was one moment when I wanted a little more. Tevye is faced with difficult decisions. When his daughter, Chava, wants to marry outside of the faith, Tevye must decide whether to be true to his religion or to his daughter. The choice must be excruciating for the deeply religious father, but it felt as if Henerson's Tevye figured it out all fairly quickly. Perhaps it was in an effort to keep the long show moving, but I just wanted to feel his pain for a moment longer.
In light of the whole show, that's pretty minor. The cast is great, with Hunter Herdlicka as Motel; Ben Cherry as Perchik; and Erik Stein as Lazar Wolf (though I wondered if he was too young and too handsome to be so off-putting to Tzeitel). It was also nice to see a live fiddler, Aaron Haines, on stage.
Jo Winiarski has the daunting task of designing the sets for all three indoor festival shows so that they can be moved on and off, stored backstage, and still look good. What a remarkable job she has done. "Fiddler," like the other shows, looks fabulous.
And that is also thanks to K.L. Alberts' costumes (which make Anatevka the most beautifully matched town in Russia) and Stephen Boulmetis' lighting adds nicely.Many left the theater on opening night humming the title song from the show. "Fiddler on the Roof," a tradition in its own right, is definitely worth seeing.