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Hillbarn Theatre continues their “Dare to Dream” 75th season celebrating Tevye’s 51 years on stage with a shinning production of this iconic musical. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF was written by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and book by Sheldon Harnick. Based on the classic stories of Sholem Aleichem, the musical won 9 Tony Awards and was the first show to surpass 3000 performances on Broadway. It would go on to hold the record of longest Broadway run for over 10 years.

Artistic Director Dan Demers assembled a talented cast for the quaint Hillbarn stage, and uses the entire space to tell the story of the little village of Anatevka. Damers says “Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best stories in the musical theatre canon. There is no question in my mind that it should be the “holiday” show for our 75th season where we are exploring the journeys of those who Dare to Dream” A highlight when seeing a production at Hillbarn is being immersed in the show, and in this case we are in the village with this cast experiencing Tevya and his “good book”.

I have had the pleasure to see four other “Fiddlers” this season, it has been a favorite musical this year on Bay Area Stages. When I visit this Village as many times as I have, I always look for the new touches each director brings to this jewel, and Demers almost makes that happen. His most impressive touch is the wedding dance and classic bottle strut and as a bottle breaks it foreshadowing of doom to come.

Staging a full production of “Fiddler” is no easy task, the story comes with a large cast and some iconic songs that are part of American Theatre. John-Elliott Kirk in perfect as Tevya, he is charming, friendly and he commands the stage. He is the heart of the show. His “If I Were a Rich Man” is excellent and touching. Most of the performances are well done but Kirk is brilliant in this role, and at times dwarfs some of the cast, but his precence on the Hillbarn stage raises the bar for this whole company.

The story of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is full of well known songs and is the mark of an important story that is evidence why this is a staple in American theatre. We all remember the tale; Tevye, a poor dairyman, and his five daughters. With the help of a tight-knit Jewish community, Tevye tries to protect his daughters and instill in them traditional values in the face of changing social mores and the growing anti-Semitism of Czarist Russia. A half a century later, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF still captures that dream of tradition and change, a major subtext for the post-war Jewish experience. Even when the tale takes a turn to sadness, the characters and the traditional beliefs make us feel hope and love for the future to come.

The marvelous Michelle Greenberg-Shannon as Tevye’s wife Golde is perfect in “Do you love Me”. The strong Russell Mangan as one of the Russians, Fyedka and Jon Toussaint as Perchik are both standouts. The wedding scene that closes out the first act is a busy one, it includes “Sunrise, Sunset”. Demers constructed this well, and “Tevye’s Dream” with Fruma-Sarah and the whole company. It was fun and the setting perfect, using every corner of the village and Joseph Mendoza light design is a highlight in this number. Rachel Share-Sapolsy as one of Tevya’s daughters, Hodel is a excellent and has a strong beautiful voice. Most impressive is local favorite Burton Thomas as Motel the Tailor and his terrific “Miracle of Miracles”. Mr. Burton has played this role in other productions and is always endearing, and vulnerable. Tzeitel, played by Jessica Maxey also is charming on stage.

The orchestra headed by Musical Director Rick Reynolds is perched above the set and is on cue featuring a full sound, 17 member ensemble. Reynolds brings a rich sound from his company and the chorus numbers “Tradition” and “Sabbath Prayer” fill the Hillbarn with radiance. The dapper Nicholas Garland plays the Fiddler and Demers keeps the icon perched above the village until he joins the cast in the second act. The story of this village is full of well known songs including “Matchmaker Matchmaker” and this cast is just about perfect.

The small village of Anatevka fills the entire Hillbarn and extends into the audience, designed by Kuo-Hao Lo. Designer Pam Lampkin has fun with the costumes in the dream scene and she keeps the tradition of the look rich with the culture of the Jewish faith, and her earth tones work well with Lo’s setting. Lampkin also adds a great touch to her design as she makes sure her clothing is very realistic giving Tevye a milk stained vest, and Laser Wolf (Bob Weisman) a butcher's bloody apron.

All the classic songs from this 51 year gem are all easy to recall “Sunrise Sunset”, “To Life” and the wedding celebration all keep the spirit of larger productions. Jayne Zaban choreography was a bit clumsy on such a small stage but her Russian dance was excellent with Noah Boger, Doug Greer, and Jon Schneider. When Demers expands the cast to fill the Hillbarn, and the villagers fill the aisles - it is a dynamic move to bring the show into the entire space.

The quirky versatile Darlene Batchelder as the Matchmaker is an adorable Yente as she loses her match making powers. She is vibrant on stage and is the perfect tradition of the show. Jon Toussaint is Perchik, the revolutionary, Hodel's eventual husband. Toussaint and Share-Sapolsky as Hodel brings that first hint of change to the village, they are both appealing on stage. Some other smaller roles I would like to mention include Alan Hafter as the Rabbi, and Eli Melmon as the Rabbi son, the very talented Amnon Levy as the villain Constable, LeighAnn Cannon as Chava, young Piper Sperske as little Bielke, Richard Ames as Mordcha, and Hillbarn favorite Ron Lopez as Avram.

For fifty years Fiddler on the Roof has earned respect as one of the greatest musicals of all time. Songs like “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Matchmaker,” and “If I Were a Rich Man,” will always be a “Tradition” in the American musical theatre. This holiday production at Hillbarn Theatre is the perfect musical to celebrate Hanukkah this season. The opening night sold out audience rose to their feet for a well deserved standing ovation at show's end. The production has sold out all their performances before opening night; that is great news for this sterling theatre company. They have added some Wednesday performances that are selling fast and you can get more details below.

Hillbarn Theatre 75th Season presents


Book by Joseph Stein ● Music by Jerry Bock ● Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick


Dec 4, to Dec 20 2015


1285 East Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City


Single tickets range in price from $25 – $48

Few available now by calling 650.349.6411 ext. 2

Running Time: 2 hours 50 minutes with Intermission.

Photo’s by Mark and Tracy Photography

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