Review: National Tour of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Establishes a New 'Tradition' at DCPA

In this world it is the wealthy who are criminals

By: Mar. 16, 2023
Review: National Tour of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Establishes a New 'Tradition' at DCPA

The summer after high school, I was in a local community theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof. Though the show was already an established classic, I generally remember that summer as one where I watched the other "sons" and "daughters" my age bond while the director felt my baby-face would be better used as a "papa." Needless to say, it was not my favorite musical experience. The First National Tour, however, is a production I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Fiddler on the Roof is the latest show to make a stop at DCPA's Buell Theater. A well oiled mule (horse?), this story is as poignant as ever - and unfortunately timeless. Fiddler has, at minimum, 6 different story lines and that's not even counting Motel's sewing machine. All that is to say, there is a lot for the cast and crew to manage and convey to the audience. This team truly rises to the occasion. Bartlett Sher's direction maintains a certain level of intimacy with the bigger picture from start to finish, but it was choreography by Hofesh Shechter that captured me most. It was so thoughtful and required a level of real technical skill from the performers on stage. I am also always a fan when Music Director's also have a clear vision and Ted Sperling's direction is vivid and refined. My one real issue has to deal with the set design by Michael Yeargan. The primary set (that being outside of Tevye's family home) is impeccable, but the majority of the other scenes were rather barren. There is also one set piece depicting the village homes of Anatevka that hangs in the air as if to give the perception of depth - it definitely doesn't.

Although these scenes were more minimal set wise, that did not stop the cast from taking the written word and letting it speak for itself through superb storytelling. As the busybody matchmaker, Mary Beth Webber as Yente has the personailty down pact. The character is clear, but I feel Webber can push the speed with which she deliveres the lines. There needs to be a sense of other characters trying to respond to Yente but she steamrolls them and just keeps going with the latest gossip about town. She is the Dolly Levi of Anatevka, after all. Lazar Wolf's presence in the show is one of the 6 main storylines, but the risk of the role becoming ancillary is high. Andrew Hendrick in the role is anything but ancillary. Even when Lazar Wolf is not essential to the scene, Hendrick elevates the role to be ever-present.

Fiddler... provides a lot of opportunity for up and coming actors. Between the five daughters and three suitors, the next generation of musical was on full display. As Perchik, Austin J. Gresham is the most compelling. It's a shame that his solo is debateably the least memorable (and least musical) in the show because his voice is beautiful, but it allows for his acting chops to take the lead. Carson Robinette as Fyedka has one of the hardest jobs. Out of the three suitors, we learn the least about Fyedka and have the least amount of time to relate to him as an audience. The sense of charisma has to be delivered clearly and fervently from the start. I did not find Robinette's attempts to be as succesful as those around him. Elliot Lazar as Motel was perhaps my favorite among the suitors. Lazar perfectly captures Motel's kindness and delivers a beautiful rendition of "Miracle of Miracles." I was so happy for him when he got his sewing machine.

The three main daughters each held their own among some all star players. Yarden Barr as Chava and Graceann Kontak as Hodel are the perfect representation of rebellious teenagers - at least for the time period. Both Kontak and Barr are equipped with powerhouse voices that retain a classical foundation. Thought the sisters are often on stage together and react together, they each also have there own moments of individuality, especially as the both independtantly choose the next path for themselves, contrary to custom. Randa Meierhenry is the epitome of "oldest sister" in the role of Tzeitel. Alongside her onstage sisters, Meierhenry lends her magnifenct vocals to the role while also encapsulating Tzeitel's need to be the perfect oldest daughter that her parents can be proud of AND her own personal desires to build a life with the one she truly loves.

No production of Fiddler on the Roof is complete without its Tevye - and no Tevye is complete without his Golde. I'll be honest, I wasn't sold on Maite Uzal's interpretation of Golde. Vocally, her tone was placed farther back which creates more of a wolfy/foghorn-esque quality that works perpendicularly to the other singers. In terms of character, I never really felt a connection to the character. I found Uzal's portrayl of Golde to be rather cold and at times it was like I wasn't getting her point of view with regard to the things happening around her if it wasn't explicitely written in the dialouge. In the role of Tevye, Jonathan Hashmonay has no need to carry the show on his back with such a collectively strong cast, but that doesn't stop him from portraying a father who has always felt like he has to carry the burden. Hashmonay is, in a word, exemplary as Tevye. Generally speaking, I have often seen Tevye cast as a older man. Hashmonay's youth adds another layer to the role, but it would have been for nothing if not for the performance he brings to the stage. Between a great voice and effective acting decisions, Hashmonay leaves it all on the stage.

The ensemble of the show is also not to be overlooked, especailly the dancers among the cast. The wedding scene, specifically, was a showcase of dance. Special shoutouts to Rosie Webber as Fruma-Sarah, Jason Thomas Sofge as the Constable, and Ali Arian Molaei as the titular Fiddler - though I do suggest practing the bowings. It was the one thing that was all over the place, but perhaps seeing the show with a trained violinist was my mistake.

This tour of Fiddler on the Roof has given me a new perspective on the show and a fonder memory than what I had before. Perhaps part of the reason is simply, "a little bit older, a little bit wiser." Or perhaps it is the bigger picture plotline of an authoritarian Russian leader forcing Jews from the homes and land, stopping just short of genocide. At the end of the show, the cast stayed on stage to dedicate the performance to the refugees, survivors, and continued victims of the war in Ukraine spurred by He Who Does Not Derserve to be Mentioned. As a performer myself, it can sometimes be hard to identify what we can do to help and raise awareness for the injustices that happen around the world. Producing work with a message, and leaving the audience with a message, is a simple, strong way to advocate for the huddled masses yearning to be free. So, to that end, I say, "The show must go on."

The First National Tour of Fiddler on the Roof plays at DCPA through March 19, 2023.


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