Sunday, March 07, 2004

Fiddler on the Roof

Tevye can't understand why the world is changing. The simple milkman from the little Russian town of Anatevka, in a strong portrayal by Davis Musical Theatre Company's founder and guiding light, Steve Isaacson, sits on his milk wagon -- the horse is lame again -- and asks his God why.

"Fiddler on the Roof," the perennial favorite based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, with music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, is at the Varsity Theater through Dec. 7.

The story is about change ... the changing relationships between parents and children, the changing political scene, the change in ... tradition. Some changes are easier to accept than others.

Mary Young reprises her role as Golde, Tevye's wife, who met him on their wedding day and who is surprised to realize, after 25 years, that she really loves her husband.

Their three oldest daughters are of marrying age and Golde turns to Yente the Matchmaker (played by Cathy Rasmussen) to find them a "perfect match."

The girls have other ideas. The oldest, Tzeitel (Lauren Miller) is secretly in love with Motel, the Tailor (Ben Bruening's best role to date), and begs her father to let her marry him instead of the older Lazar Wolf, the Butcher (Rick Simonson). Seeing how much in love the two are, Tevye gives his permission.

When it comes to the next daughter, Hodel (Wendy Wyse), Tevye reluctantly agrees to let her follow her love, the idealistic activist Perchik (Ryan Adame), to Siberia, knowing he may never see her again.

But when his favorite, Chava (Jillian Johnson) falls for a Russian soldier, Fyedka (played by Tevye Ditter -- that's really his name -- a man with terrific voice), the father draws the line and declares his daughter "dead."

The DMTC production, directed by Michael Miiller, is lively and fast-paced. The musical numbers are outstanding, particularly the opening number, "Tradition," involving all the townspeople in a circle dance and "To Life," a rousing song of celebration following Tevye's pact with Lazar Wolf to the marriage with his daughter.

The dream sequence, which Tevye concocts to convince Golde of the wisdom of the marriage of Tzeitel and Motel gives Jan Isaacson a chance to shine as Grandma and Dannette Vassar to make the most of the role of the ghost of Fruma-Sarah, the butcher's first wife.

(Kudos also to Rich Kulmann, the perfect Rabbi.)

Sets, designed by Isaacson, are utilitarian, but they work. It is unfortunate that the backdrop is not stretched tightly across the frame (and is badly bunched up in one corner), as the movement of actors backstage causes it to ripple badly and distracts from the action on stage.
The 16-piece band is under the direction of Andy Sullivan, and Noel Bruening does her own playing on stage as the Fiddler.

A nasty flu bug has been making its way through the company and affected some of the otherwise strong voices of cast, in both pitch and volume, a situation that surely will be cleared up by next weekend.

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