Sunday, June 30, 2013

Music Review: Fiddle on the Roof Original Broadway Cast Soundtrack

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great recordings of some classic songs
Cons: Maria Karnilova's voice; some missing songs
The Bottom Line:
So many great songs
My minor complaints aside
A classic soundtrack

This Soundtrack is Not as Shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof

I got to see a production of Fiddler on the Roof this weekend.  I’d forgotten just how good the musical is.  It also inspired me to pull out my Original Cast Soundtrack again.

Now, I bought this particular CD back in the late 90’s when I was in the play.  I listened to the songs I was part of quite a bit so that I could learn them.  Granted, I was only in the chorus, but that still meant I was listening to quite a bit.  Now, I listen to the entire thing and enjoy it just as much.

One thing to note about the soundtrack is the use of stereo.  I’m sure in the 60’s it was extra special since it was new technology.  Even now it’s fun.  For example, on the first track, the different groups that sing do so in different speakers.  It almost makes you feel like you are seeing it on stage.  That also shows up on group numbers like “Sunrise, Sunset” and “The Rumor” as well as the duet “Now I Have Everything.”  The songs that are solos play in both speakers equally.

If you aren’t familiar with the play, it follows the story of Tevye, a Russian Jew around 1905.  As the play opens, he and the villagers fill you in on their lives and the “Traditions” they follow.  The rest of the play sees their traditions and their way of life fall apart as Tevye’s three oldest daughters don’t wait for the matchmaker to find them a match but fall in love on their own and even dance with men.  This plays out against the Communist revolution and the Jews being driven from their homes.

The first act is fairly light, and that’s reflected in some of the songs.  The daughters sing the fun “Matchmaker” as they dream of their future husbands, until the eldest wakes to up to the potential bad husbands they might get stuck with.  “To Life” is a show stopper that finds the men celebrating and dancing in the local bar.  It’s in the second act that things get much more serious, as reflected in “Far From the Home I Love,” which the second daughter sing as she leaves home to join her fiancĂ©e in Siberia.  Then there’s “Anatevka,” which the village sings as they learn they much leave in three days.

Naturally, those later songs are slower than the fun earlier numbers, although the tempo changes regularly overall and keeps things interesting.

Zero Mostel originated the role of Tevye, a part he revived many times in his career.  It’s easy to see why he became so famous for it after listening to this disc.  Tevye’s famous solo “If I Were a Rich Man” is absolutely wonderful.  And he brings such life to his monologs in “Tradition” and his part in the group number “To Life” while showing his emotions in “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same for Maria Karnilova, who plays his wife Golde.  She’s got a voice that tends to squeak some.  While it works great for the comic moments of “Do You Love Me?” and “The Dream,” it doesn’t work quite so well for “Sabbath Prayer.”

In between these two extremes, the rest of the cast is fine.  It might feel slightly dated since this is the 60’s overall, but I still enjoy it.  The cast is accompanied by a full orchestra, including fiddle solos to start and end.  The orchestra never over powers the cast but provides a rich backdrop to their voices.

This particular release included two previously unreleased tracks.  The first is the instrumental “Wedding Dance” which includes the famous bottle dance and some more music they danced to right after that.  Again, this track holds memories for me as I was a bottle dancer when I was in the play.  Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of the dance but not how terrified I was of dropping and breaking a glass bottle during a show.  (I broke several in rehearsal, but never on stage.)

The other never before released song is “The Rumor.”  This short song is the lightest moment from the second act and was cut from the movie.  It finds some news about Tevye and his family getting out and flying around town, but every time it is shared, it changes with comic results.  It’s silly, and I love it.

There are some tracks missing from a complete recording, although I don’t know if these are available anywhere.  Tevye’s internal monologs as his daughters ask for permission to marry the men they’ve fallen in love with are usually never listed as songs, but he does sing.  The bigger omission to me is “Chavaleh (Little Bird),” which is maybe a good thing since it’s so heartbreaking it would probably make me cry every time I listened to it.

My issues with this soundtrack are minor.  While I’ve kept my eyes open, I’ve never seen another one I thought would be better than this one.  It’s got several classic songs and many of the tracks are fun even outside the play.  The Original Cast Soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof belongs in any serious soundtrack collection.

CD Length: 49:47
1. Prologue: Tradition
2. Matchmaker
3. If I Were a Rich Man
4. Sabbath Prayer
5. To Life
6. Miracle of Miracles
7. The Dream
8.Sunrise, Sunset
9. Wedding Dance
10. Now I Have Everything
11. Do You Love Me?
12. The rumor
13. Far From the Home I Love
14. Anatevka

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