Church Hill’s ‘Fid­dler’ a delight

Record Observer - - Arts & Entertainment - By PETER HECK pheck@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — “Fid­dler on the Roof,” now play­ing at Church Hill The­atre, is one of the most pop­u­lar of all Broad­way mu­si­cals. Di­rected by Sylvia Maloney, the CHT pro­duc­tion gives a good idea why the show has made such a strong im­pact.

Orig­i­nally pro­duced in 1964, “Fid­dler” is based on sto­ries of the vil­lage life of Rus­sian Jews writ­ten in the early 1900s by the great Yid­dish writer Sholem Ale­ichem. The show fea­tures mu­sic by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Shel­don Har­nick and book by Joseph Stein. While sev­eral other drama­ti­za­tions of Ale­ichem’s work pre­ceded it, “Fid­dler” hit the jack­pot.

Set in the tiny Rus­sian Jewish vil­lage of Anat­evka in 1905, “Fid­dler” re­volves around the com­mu­nity’s milk­man, Tevye, and his at­tempts to keep tra­di­tion alive in a chang­ing world. Tevye and his wife Golde are es­pe­cially con­cerned with the fu­ture of their five daugh­ters, the old­est of whom are of mar­riage­able age.

Much of the plot re­volves around the par­ents’ de­sire to see their daugh­ters hap­pily wed — a de­sire that cre­ates cri­sis af­ter cri­sis as each of the daugh­ters finds a match on her own. Tevye finds his faith in tra­di­tion chal­lenged more by each of the daugh­ters, whose suit­ors are pro­gres­sively more “un­suit­able” to his stan­dards.

And the daugh­ters’ choices cre­ate rip­ples in the en­tire vil­lage, as they defy the time­honored sys­tem in which Yente, the vil­lage match­maker, ar­ranges wed­dings and chil­dren du­ti­fully ac­cept their par­ents’ wishes.

Other change is com­ing to the vil­lage. Mo­tel, the tai­lor who mar­ries Tevye’s old­est daugh­ter Tzei­tel, dreams of own­ing a sewing ma­chine. Per­chik, a stu­dent from Kiev who teaches Tevye’s daugh­ters, is a rad­i­cal who chal­lenges the tsar’s op­pres­sive regime. And the Rus­sian author­i­ties, whose rule has gen­er­ally been light, are be­gin­ning to take a much harsher role in Anat­evka. All this throws the vil­lage life into in­creas­ing fer­ment — and makes Tevye’s faith in tra­di­tion even harder to hold onto.

The mu­si­cal’s themes of tol­er­ance and deal­ing with change strike close to home at a time when re­li­gious and so­cial in­tol­er­ance seem to be hard­en­ing. Tevye’s re­sponse to the world he finds him­self in isn’t al­ways wise — but we can learn from watch­ing him, and feel­ing what he feels. It’s good to have plays that ex­plore these big is­sues.

As with any great mu­si­cal, “Fid­dler” has its share of mem­o­rable songs — three of which come at the very be­gin­ning. The open­ing num­ber, “Tra­di­tion,” sung by the whole cast, sets the tone for the en­tire play. “Match­maker,” sung by Tevye’s daugh­ters, is an amus­ing look at the young women’s role in a world of ar­ranged mar­riages. And “If I Were a Rich Man,” Tevye’s great num­ber, is a won­der­ful bit of char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

Not all the songs are as mem­o­rable as those three, but the score as a whole nicely cap­tures the feel­ing of the tra­di­tional mu­sic of Eastern Euro­pean Jews.

Herb Ziegler plays Tevye with real pas­sion, bring­ing out the char­ac­ter’s warm hu­mor and his deep con­cern for his fam­ily and his re­li­gion. Ziegler cap­tures the char­ac­ter’s joy and sor­rows, his in­tro­spec­tion and ex­u­ber­ance, with equal felic­ity. And he de­liv­ers “If I Were a Rich Man” with in­fec­tious zest. Ziegler has a long track record of solid per­for­mances at Church Hill, but this has to be the top­per. It is hard to imag­ine any­one bet­ter suited to the role.

De­bra Eber­sole, another CHT vet­eran, is also well cast as Golde, Tevye’s wife. Her singing voice is al­ways an as­set, es­pe­cially on “Sun­rise, Sun­set.”

Kristi McNiece, Becca Van Aken, Grace McCreary, Maya McGrory and Lind­say McCowan are cast as Tevye’s daugh­ters. The first three have big­ger parts, as their choice of hus­bands drives much of the plot. A well-cast en­sem­ble — each nicely brings out her char­ac­ter’s in­di­vid­ual sen­si­bil­ity.

John Beck turns in a good per­for­mance as Lazar Wolf, the rich butcher whose plan to marry Tzei­tel is frustrated when she chooses another. His big scene where he gets Tevye to agree to the mar­riage over drinks is well played.

Mark Wein­ing plays Mo­tel, the tai­lor. He does a fine job of pro­ject­ing the char­ac­ter’s am­bi­tion. His en­thu­si­asm when the longed-for sewing ma­chine fi­nally ar­rives is a high­light of the sec­ond act.

There are too many other cast mem­bers, in­clud­ing a num­ber of CHT reg­u­lars, to give in­di­vid­ual credit. Matt Folker is well cast as Per­chik, the rad­i­cal stu­dent who woos Tevye’s daugh­ter Hodel. Kathy Jones is amus­ing as Yente, the match­maker. Jean Lever­age has a brief but ef­fec­tive part in a dream se­quence as Golde’s grand­mother. And Cavin Moore looks just right as the fid­dler.

Maloney said the open set gave her the op­por­tu­nity to show the vil­lage of Anat­evka that sur­rounds Tevye and his fam­ily. In al­most ev­ery scene, some­thing is go­ing on in the back­ground, re­mind­ing us how the main plot is but one strand in the life of the com­mu­nity.

The stag­ing also al­lows for very quick scene changes, with a piece or two of fur­ni­ture moved into place by the ac­tors. It’s a nice way to elim­i­nate the dead space be­tween scenes that some­times slows the pace of mu­si­cals.

There were a few in­to­na­tion prob­lems in the show, both in the orches­tra and in the vo­cals. One can un­der­stand how a singer could have prob­lems stay­ing on pitch when the ac­com­pa­ni­ment is oc­ca­sion­ally un­clear. But you’ll def­i­nitely leave the theater hum­ming the tunes.

On the other hand, the dance scenes, chore­ographed by Moore, were a real strength of the pro­duc­tion. Robert Bran­ning, El­liot Morotti and Bryce Sul­li­van are par­tic­u­larly good in their scene as Cos­sack dancers. Get­ting solid dance per­for­mances from an amateur cast isn’t al­ways easy, but this pro­duc­tion shows what can hap­pen when it comes to­gether.

“Fid­dler” will be play­ing though Sun­day, June 26, a show al­ready sold out. Tick­ets re­main for the 8 p.m. shows Fri­day and Satur­day. Tick­ets are $20 for adults, $10 for stu­dents. Theater mem­bers re­ceive a dis­count.

For reser­va­tions, call 410-556-6003 or visit www. church­hillthe­atre.org.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

God­frey’s Farm will hold Blue­grass in the Blue­berry Patch from 2 to 5 p.m. Sun­day, June 26.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Tevye (Herb Ziegler) asks God if there is any harm in giv­ing him a small for­tune in “If I Were a Rich Man” in Church Hill The­atre’s pro­duc­tion of “Fid­dler on the Roof.”

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