Review: Fiddler On The Roof (CATS Mainstage Theatre Company)

CATS Mainstage Theatre Company presents a polished production of Fiddler On The Roof at Toronto’s Randolph Theatre

Watching the CATS production of Fiddler On The Roof I thought: my kids could so get into this. A show put on by a cast of energetic, arts-loving teens and pre-teens. It’s the perfect opportunity to pretend you’re belting it out on Broadway, and dream that someday you’ll make it.

So it’s no surprise that more than a few of the triple-threat performers were students from Toronto’s Etobicoke School of the Arts. Or have played a part in a Canadian Children’s Opera Company production. Or have danced in the Nutcracker’s Battle Scene.

CATS Mainstage Theatre Company is another great opportunity for Toronto artists aged 11 to 21 to put their dreams to the test. And one or two of them, possibly, we’ll see someday on stage in Toronto or elsewhere.

As for the production itself, it’s hard to imagine a more musical warhorse – pardon the pun –, than the Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick 1964 classic Fiddler On The Roof.

The original Broadway production was the first major musical to run more than 3,000 performances. Compare that to Toronto’s own Phantom of the Opera, which had 4,226.

From “If I Were a Rich Man” to “Matchmaker” to “Sunrise, Sunset,” the production is packed full of sing-a-longs, and my companion and I knew them all. Or at least the first half – my family must have been stuck on side A of our 70’s LP.

The story, for those who have never heard the prologue “Tradition,” is about an old Jewish patriarch trying to hang onto tradition in a world that’s quickly changing.

Having kids play the roles of Jewish villagers at the turn of the previous century is challenging. Roberto Lannitti did a great job playing the main role of Jewish patriarch Tevye, and was backed up by a cast that to varying degrees pulled off being a crowd of villagers and specific characters in 1905 Czarist Russia.

It’s not easy when everything from your beard to the era to the age of your character is an act. Perhaps some kind of Bugsy Malone treatment, twisting the original to make it clear, for example, that the kids are kids playing adults, might have made for a less predictable production.

As it is, I’m worried what Stratford will do with its 2013 version. Please, surprise me!

In any case, CATS’ artistic director and founder Gina Anki did what she does best in bringing a large group of performers to a polished production in 11 short weeks. And for that the actors are to be applauded: they are our cultural future.

CATS’ next production is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Auditions open in the new year.


Fiddler On The Roof played at the Randolph Theatre (736 Bathurst) until Dec 16, 2012.