Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fiddler on the Roof

One of the first things noticed about the Davis Musical Theatre Company's production of 'Fiddler on the Roof,' directed by Steve Isaacson, is the quality of the chorus.

From the opening 'Tradition,' through the 'Sabbath Prayer' and to the closing 'Epilogue,' the chorus gives full voice to the music of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Thanks also to the choreography by Jan Isaacson - who also plays Golde in this production - the chorus members give a good musical depth to this perennial favorite, with its book based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem.

One sometimes thinks of 'musicals' as light, frothy pieces that lift the spirit and set the toes to tapping, but 'Fiddler' is no such musical.

True, light moments can be found in this story of the milkman, Tevye (Jeff Nauer), his wife and five daughters, and the townspeople of Anatevka, a small village in Russia.

But the play is dominated by shocking moments, tremendously sad sections and an ending that gives only a faint glimmer of hope, and is more a downer than anything else.

But between the opening and closing numbers, patrons will enjoy some very good things and a lot of familiar music. This 'Fiddler' is one of those 'spotty' productions - with some performers shining, and others not so much - but there's still much to like.

Nauer reprises the role he played at the Woodland Opera House a year ago. He has a strong voice and is a good actor, but his Tevye is more a combination of a downtrodden Jewish milkman and Santa Claus. Try as he might, whatever he does, Nauer can't get rid of that twinkle in his eye.

That said, he has wonderful moments, particularly during the scenes with his daughters, when this man of strong traditional values must confront a changing world and realize that his children have very different views on life and love ... and can he accept them?

His duet with Isaacson's Golde - when the couple discovers, after 25 years, that they've grown to love each other - is quite touching.

The three daughters are simply marvelous: both individually and together, during their trio in 'Matchmaker, Matchmaker.'

Amanda Yount is Tzeitel, the eldest, who pleads with Tevye not to betroth her to Lzar Wolf, the butcher (Jon Mounts), because of her love for her childhood friend, Motel (Brennan Ballard).

Hodel (Josephine Longo), the intellectual middle daughter, decides to marry the student Perchik (Giorgio Selvaggio), and she shocks her father by asking for his blessing, instead of his permission.

Selvaggio is one of those performers who suddenly displays a huge voice that we don't quite expect; he's a delightful surprise.

Shannon Kendall is radiant as Chava, Tevye's favorite daughter, who breaks her father's heart when she falls in love with Fyedka (Trevor Hoffmann), a Russian and therefore Tevye's sworn enemy.

Dannette Vassar, here playing Yente the Matchmaker, is a continuing pleasure. Having watched Vassar progress from bit parts to lead roles has been a delight; she's wonderful as Yente, who needs to know everybody's business ... and, ideally, shape everyone's life.

Julie Kulmann, usually a stalwart of the chorus, finds her niche as Grandma Tzeitel, in Tevye's nightmare. She's absolutely perfect for the character.

Her husband, Rich Kulmann, has made a career of playing rabbis. In this production, his rabbi is older than when last I saw him do such a role ... but, then, Kulmann also is older! His blessings for things such as sewing machines - and the tzar - are priceless.

Lindsay Carpenter, George Morales, Herb K. Schultz and Marc Valdez play the bottle dancers who entertain at the wedding of Tzeitel and Motel. They managed to keep the bottles upright on their hats during the performance I saw last weekend, although one bottle stood at a rakish angle throughout the dance, only by some miracle didn't fall.

Carpenter also plays the title character, who follows Tevye throughout the play.

Chris Petersen is quite earnest as Mendel, the rabbi's son, and also is listed as the orchestra's drummer. Things must be interesting in the orchestra pit and backstage, when he darts to and fro.

Jean Henderson once again created authentic-looking costumes, although I wouldn't have pressed the outfits so well. We somehow don't expect Tevye to arrive on stage, pulling a milk wagon, with a perfect crease pressed in his flawlessly smooth pants.

Steve Isaacson is credited for scenic design, and has done as much as he could with the spare bits of scenery. But I'd definitely lose the gobo projection that is intended to represent buildings in a village, but instead looks only weird.

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