(photo caption: Michael Nilo with Jonathan Hadary after the show.)
(photo caption: Lyricist Sheldon Harnick speaking after the show.)
(photo caption: The Fichandler Stage)
If you have not been to Arena Stage, you should go. I have lived within a stone’s throw of the theater for a year now, often walking by with my dog, but had only ever peered into the gigantic glass windows from the outside. So when a friend asked me to go see Fiddler on the Roof on its opening night at Arena Stage and write about the experience, I agreed.
I grew up going to New York City regularly with my family and, as a kid, a trip there usually included a show or a baseball game. I had never seen Fiddler on stage but I was familiar with the story from the movie and was curious how the big glass-encased theater around the corner would do with the show. I could not have been more impressed by the whole experience.
The building itself is brand new and beautiful. With lots of open areas, several levels, and outdoor space, it looks like the perfect space to host any event. The theater boasts three separate stages as well as classrooms and other meeting rooms. There is also the Catwalk Café, which offers a fixed price menu for two and a half hours before any show that looked delicious and which I will have to try on my next visit. As I wandered among the pre-show crowd and grabbed a drink, I noticed a few familiar faces, including neighbors who I normally only ever see in my lobby and politicians I recognized from the recent election posters.
We entered and descended the stairs to our seats in the intimate, four-sided Fichandler Stage. The show began with the fiddler sitting on the “roof,” which hung above the stage. As Tevye (Jonathan Hadary, the Papa) entered from almost below me, I immediately realized that this would be a unique show because there was no true backstage. Actors and actresses entered from the corners or even from underneath the stage while the 680-seat crowd looked down on the stage from all sides. The show was fantastic. The stage direction and production made it so there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Dancers and singers played to all sides of the room. Without a curtain to hide behind, set changes came from all sides and even through the floor. This enhanced the already great aspects of the show, such as the dream sequence.
The entire ensemble was great, especially the actors and actresses who played Tevye, Golde (Ann Arvia, the Mama), and Hodel (Hannah Corneau), who had me poring over the Playbill during intermission to find out what other shows they had been in. The cast and crew did a great job portraying the value of family, the celebration of life, and the question of tradition. The whole show and experience convinced me that I need to take advantage of this great venue more often and come to as many events as I can.
At the end of the show, I was surprised to find out that the lyricist for Fiddler, Sheldon Harnick, was in the audience for the 50th anniversary of the show. Molly Smith, the director, awarded Mr. Harnick with the American Artist Award. He complimented everyone involved with the show and said that in 50 years of seeing the show, he had never seen the dream sequence portrayed that well. Molly Smith also honored Senator Tim Kaine with the American Voice Award. The honors were followed by a dessert reception for the whole audience. I was able to chat with a few of my neighbors and I was also able to snap a quick picture with Jonathan Hadary. I sent the picture to my parents to show them that I still do some cultural things and found out that they had seen Mr. Hadary in his Tony award winning role in Gypsy on Broadway almost 25 years ago. Tradition!
By: Michael Nilo