Tuesday, July 16, 2013

This Fiddler Is In Tune - Review of "Fiddler on the Roof" by the Reagle Music Theatre

I approach every production of "Fiddler on the Roof" with trepidation, wondering how I will react as an audience member.  "Fiddler" is one of my favorite shows.  I have seen the show dozens of times, including seeing the iconic Tevye performances of Zero Mostel, Hershel Bernadi and Topol.  I have high expectations whenever I return to this favorite story, originally told by Sholem Aleichem.  The show is also a favorite of many musical theater aficionados, so it is often performed as a beloved "old chestnut."   So, as I made my way to Waltham last weekend to see the Reagle Music Theatre Company's production, my excitement at seeing this old friend one more time was mixed with a dollop of anxiety about how well the Reagle team  would handle this classic.  I need not have worried.  The show is a delight, and Friday night's audience was mesmerized.

The auditorium of Waltham High School was transformed into the little village of Anatevka with a beautifully painted Ukrainian birch forest on the curtain, and then by a clever set, designed by Steve Gilliam.  Director, Kirby Ward, has assembled a huge cast made up of a combination of veterans of the stage and relative newcomers.  They are an enthusiastic and lively corps.  Any production of "Fiddler" rises or falls with the actor who portrays Tevye.  As the Good Book says, "Tevye is the glue that holds the show together."  Local TV veteran Scott Wahle is the headliner here.  In the first few moments, I found myself wishing for a more "ethnic" Tevye," but as the story developed, so did my level of comfort and enjoyment of Wahle's performance.  His rendition of "If I Were A Rich Man" was on target, and his elegiac lament "Chaveleh" was deeply moving, sung as he sat slouched upon the "home base" on his milk wagon.

Several other elements of this production stood out for me.  The song, "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" was a highlight, as Tevye's three daughters bemoaned their potential fates at the hands of the matchmaker, Yente.  Zeitel (Nora Fox), Hodel (Gillian Mariner Gordon) and Chava (Alexa Lebersfeld) sang and danced together beautifully and comically in this number.  A visual and musical highlight of the evening was the gorgeous tableau depicting five families lighting their Sabbath candles while singing "Sabbath Prayer."  It was magical.

Each of the three sons-in-law was well cast.  Motel the Tailor (Peter Mill) brought the right mix of humility and aspiration, and did justice to Motel's musical moment in the sun, "Miracle of Miracles."  Perchik (Daniel Forest Sullivan) was appropriately scholarly and reservedly celebratory in his duet with Hodel, "Now I Have Everything." And Fyedka (Matt Phillipps) struck the right notes of conflict between his role as a young soldier enacting anti-Semitic edicts and simultaneously loving his Jewish wife, Chava, and her people.

Another highlight - visually, dramatically and musically - is the song "Far From the Home I Love."  Hodel is about to leave Anatevka to join her exiled Perchik in Siberia.  She does not know when or if she will ever see her family again, and her farewell song to Tevye is deeply moving.  Gordon's approach to this song and to this scene made it work as well as it did.

Golde, Tevye's wife (Donna Sorbello) is played as a lovable shrew.  Sorbello and Wahle were terrific in their duet, "Do You Love Me?"

The well choreographed dancing (Susan M. Chebookjian) and fine ensemble singing rounded out the production and ensured that it would be an enjoyable evening spent in the theater and in Anatevka.

This production runs for one more weekend, with a special Free Friday Performance on the 19th.  Check the Reagle website for details.

Reagle Music Theatre

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