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Article updated: 3/10/2013 9:26 PM

Triumphant 'Fiddler' closes out Paramount season

By Barbara Vitello

Settling into my seat for Friday's opening of "Fiddler on the Roof" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre, the storm clouds immediately drew my attention. Suspended over Anatevka's weathered rooftops, they spoke volumes of the tempest that will batter this tiny Russian burg and its Jewish population, including milkman-philosopher Tevye, his no-nonsense wife, Golde, and their five daughters.

What next caught my eye, as I awaited the iconic violin melody that begins composer Jerry Bock's exceptional, Slavic-inspired score, was the massive wood beam and supports with which set designer Kevin Depinet frames the stage. A potent visual metaphor, it suggests the faith that underpins these characters, a faith strong enough to withstand even the most ferocious assault, a faith that endures while "intimate, obstinate" Anatevka recedes into the distance as its residents leave to begin new lives in new places, forced into exile on the eve of Russia's 1905 revolution.

That faith is tested when Tevye -- comfortable with the security tradition affords -- is confronted with the inevitability of change, evinced by his loving but increasingly independent daughters. That eternal conflict between old ways and new ideas underscores this ever-resonant show inspired by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem's short stories, with poignant lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, a first-rate book by Joseph Stein and the aforementioned Bock's robust, often spine-tingling score.

Paramount's production marks a triumphant conclusion to its second Broadway season. In fact, artistic director Jim Corti's production rivals almost anything the Chicago area has to offer -- including big-budget Broadway tours.

Heartfelt, humorous and deeply compassionate, Corti's "Fiddler" is stellar. The production gets right every musical moment: the grandeur of "Tradition" and "To Life;" the simplicity of the poignant "Little Bird;" and the quiet resignation -- beautifully expressed by David Girolmo's Tevye and Iris Lieberman's Golde -- in the wonderful "Sunrise, Sunset" in which parents accept that they have no more words of wisdom to impart to their children.

Besides a grand and glorious 18-piece orchestra under the fine musical direction of Michael Keefe, the show features exuberant, commanding choreography from Gordon Peirce Schmidt and a top-notch cast led by the accomplished Girolmo, an understudy whose eloquent Tevye stops the show.

Girolmo, who was to play the butcher Lazar Wolf (which he played in Marriott Theatre's 2010 revival), took over the role of Tevye for Peter Kevoian, who fell ill during technical rehearsals and may return mid-run. Girolmo's fine voice, wry humor, inherent decency and passion serve well the deeply pious, loving husband and father who fears he'll break if he bends too far back. Not a chance. Tevye is made of far sturdier stuff, of that Girolmo leaves no doubt.

Also earning kudos is Lieberman, whose "Do You Love Me?" duet with Girolmo is a lovely tribute to longtime marrieds for whom an affectionate nudge contains as much meaning as a passionate embrace. Renee Matthews is ideal as the matchmaker Yente, as is Matt Jones, who stepped into the role of the lonely Lazar Wolf, infusing the character with a fundamental decency that makes for a good and loyal husband. Jim DeSelm's passionate university student Perchik is well-matched by Jazmin Gorsline's quick-witted Hodel. And Skyler Adams is nicely nervous as the tailor Motel in love with eldest daughter Tzeitel, played by Kelly Abell, whose impression of Matthews' Yente is spot on.

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