Confession: I had never seen Fiddler on the Roof prior to attending what UMS called a “lightly-staged concert performance” of the iconic Broadway-musical-made film over the weekend.
However, I quickly wished I did–the production was so clearly made with a communal love and passion that I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of easter eggs and small artistic decisions that I felt I was missing out on. Even from a newcomer’s perspective, I found the story to be easily relatable, the music heart-pumping and familiar, and the actors and dancers to be absolutely phenomenal.
As a violinist, I was immediately drawn in by the opening scene: a solo violinist leisurely traveling across the stage, a single dancer with outstretched arms following along with disjunct flowy movements, the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra nestled comfortably in the background. John Williams’ opening cadenza is plucky, sweet, and edgy, with an almost improvised quality. The violinist played it with the practiced ease of both a street performer and virtuoso, leaning into the music’s gratuitous slides and stringy texture.
Additionally, it was a pleasure to see SMTD students share the stage with Broadway singers Chuck Cooper and Loretta Ables Sayre. Ella Olesen, Kate Cummings, and Kelly Lomonte as Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava were charming and relatable as we got to watch them grow as characters. Chuck Cooper/Tevye’s interactions with his daughters were precious and sincere, while other times he easily commanded the stage with his character’s charisma and humorous asides. Furthermore, Diego Rodriguez and Christopher Tamayo as Motel Kamzoil and Perchik gave memorable performances as we were prompted to celebrate and sympathize with them throughout the story.
A highlight of the show I didn’t anticipate was the dancing. Only working with the sliver of stage available in front of the orchestra, the dancers launched themselves in tight spins and sharp, electrifying moves. A particular moment that stood out to me was the bottle dance during the wedding scene where the dancers linked arms and slid forward on their knees in giant, synchronized lunges whilst balancing bottles on their hats. It was ridiculously exciting.
A beautiful collaboration between UM students and decorated professionals, Fiddler on the Roof in Concert was the production I didn’t know I needed to see. After this, I definitely plan to keep my eye out for future student theater productions!