BWW Reviews: Dutch Apple FIDDLER Fiddles Happily With 'Tradition'
It's certainly not the norm to see a national tour kicked off at a dinner theatre, but Prather Entertainment Group owns both Dutch Apple and the production group running this national tour of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, so the move makes sense. So does this production.
Jimmy Ferraro, an actor who's made a career of this show, may bring a certain Italian flair to his Yiddishkeit, but who's complaining? His Tevye, while slightly more "traditionally" Jewish while he's singing and dancing across Anatevka than it is when he's speaking, dispenses cockeyed wisdom from "the Good Book", parental noodging to his three older daughters, and sometimes even dairy products to his customers as he confronts the changes the dawn of the Twentieth Century brings to Russian village life.
FIDDLER is a musical drama with comic moments, not a musical comedy – for Tevye and the Jewish residents of Anatevka, it's about, as the song says, tradition – or, more particularly, its loss, and the discomfort of dealing with that loss. Loss of customs, loss of children, loss of religious faith, loss of home – all of these confront the village as the end of Czarist Russia looms on the horizon, and all of them are not met happily or well.
As Sholom Aleichem's fictional Tevye the dairyman, Ferraro displays vividly his conflict between matchmaking traditions (which are still, in fact, practiced by many Orthodox Jews in America) and the modern idea of marrying for love, the conflict between comfortable apathy and political dissent, and his brick wall, the conflict between Jewish tradition and Christianity. While he may be able to deal in the outside world for some time with the Czar's constable and the local Russian youths, he is unable to bridge the gap in his own family between faith and intermarriage, a tension that still exists in real life for many. Ferraro's Tevye, unlike many portrayals, doesn't appear to believe completely that his simple faith in God will cure all ills, as, in fact, it doesn't. He smiles, but he struggles, and recognizing the depth of that inner conflict is pivotal to a great performance of Tevye as opposed to a good one.
Dee Etta Rowe, Ferraro's wife in real life, shines as the harried Golde, mother of five lovely girls, all of whom will need husbands, and as Tevye's literal chief cook and bottle washer. Incidentally, both Tevye and Golde and Ferraro and Rowe are couples of twenty-five years, and the actors acknowledge that the occasional bursts of tension between Tevye and Golde in their portrayals are based upon their own occasional incidents. There is marvelous chemistry between them – which isn't always true of married couples playing against each other, when on stage. This Tevye and Golde are comfortable with each other, truly comfortable enough that when they sing "Do You Love Me?" the question really does seem as unfathomable as Golde claims it to be.
The choreography for this production by Lauren Loercher-Sobon requires note; it's far better than most performances I've seen. The Russian dancing at the tavern and the bottle dancing at the wedding are both fine pieces of work, and both choreographer and dancers deserve credit for their efforts; I have seen less worthy performances from folk dance troupes. The dream sequence (or the alleged dream sequence, as Tevye is lying to Golde about why their daughter shouldn't marry Lazar Wolf, the butcher), "Tevye's Dream," is equally well staged, and is the best version of this piece I've seen in quite some time.
"Tradition" has it that Tevye's three eldest daughters, the ones who marry during the show, must be strong performers in their own right, and no finer example of that exists than Bette Midler's turn as the most senior daughter, Tzeitel, in the original Broadway run. In this national tour, Colleen Johnson, who has previously sung Eva Peron in EVITA, continues the line of strong Tzeitels. Elizabeth McMonagle, singing Hodel at Dutch Apple, is a local performance veteran with fine stage presence. Allison Fund, a Lititz native, is making her national tour debut as Chava. Fund first performed at Dutch Apple at age 12, and has stayed in the Prather Entertainment family. Although she wasn't in Dutch Apple's 2000 production of FIDDLER, she's a worthy veteran of the Dutch Apple stage, and Lancaster is still her home base as she leaves on this tour.
Although Ferraro and Rowe have worked in the same shows in the past, this is the first time that the couple has actually performed against each other. If they survive the grind of this national tour, we may hope that they perform together again; they're well suited for it. They will be on the Dutch Apple stage for their twenty-fifth anniversary. Ferraro has a varied theatrical background, including performing as Mary Sunshine in CHICAGO, but in his forty years of acting, he's spent thirty-five of them performing in FIDDLER in some form (though not always as Tevye). Rowe, whose voice shows its operatic training, has performed in FIDDLER once before, as Yente the matchmaker. (Ferraro was not in that particular show.) Her past work includes a national tour of SOUND OF MUSIC and the Angela Lansbury/George Hearn tour of SWEENEY TODD.
Actor Bob Marcus, who plays Lazar Wolf, is convincing as the aging widower who is interested in marrying Tzeitel; Greg Pragel is equally so as Motel, the young, poor tailor who has grown up with Tzeitel and loves her. His rendition of "Miracle of Miracles" charmed the entire audience, and with reason.
A nit-pick with the otherwise excellent costuming of this production: While all the Jewish men of Anatevka are wearing their tallit katan (fringed undershirts) more or less properly, none of them should be wearing shawl-type tallit over their clothing at home on Shabbat eve. Those are worn for morning prayer on Shabbat. I'll give you that it looks good on stage, but it's not authentic as shown.
FIDDLER runs through September 22 at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster. For tickets, call (717) 898-1900, or visit www.DutchApple.com.
Photo Credit: Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre