A sprightly new production of the classic Broadway musical Fiddler On The Roof is now on tap at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia. While lacking the expanse of a Broadway stage, Toby’s Fiddler makes up for it with a richness in characterization and a tight sense of family that can often get lost in a larger production. Which seems to have been exactly what directors/choreographers Tina DeSimone and David James had in mind.
As most fans of the musical already know, Fiddler’s primary action centers on a tiny village in Czarist Russia, but more specifically on its small, beleaguered Jewish enclave that struggles to survive amidst harsh winters, haunted by its precarious position and by the fear of the periodic, destructive, murderous pogroms that sweep across the anti-Semitic landscape, often with little warning.
Typical of the enclave’s residents, Tevye struggles to hold on to Jewish traditions while also confronting the impossible task of marrying off his five daughters. That’s a daunting task even in normal times. But change is in the air, and Tevye will be lucky to hold on to his old traditions while maintaining some semblance of normalcy with his increasingly non-conformist daughters.
It all sounds profound, and sometimes it is. Yet the tone of this musical on the whole is remarkably light and optimistic, spearheaded as it is by the generally adaptable Tevye himself, whose generally sunny optimism is hard to derail for long. David Bosley-Reynolds plays him just about right, offering his version of Tevye as a boisterous yet gentle bear of a man who can bend without breaking even though he does have his limits.
Bosley-Reynolds’ character is crude around the edges, yet possesses an extraordinary sense of how to balance the unchanging with his ever-changing political and personal landscape. An extra bonus: Bosley-Reynolds’ singing voice matches the one we’d imagine his character to have. It’s rough, expressive, expansive, yet capable of expressing great emotion.
So central is Tevye to this musical that other characters necessarily tend to take a back seat to his bigger-than-life personality. That said, certain key figures stand out both in the original musical as well as here. As Tzeitel, the first of Tevye’s daughters to stray from her predestined path, Tina Marie DeSimone is a marvelously complex blend of acquiescence and defiance. In the end, her skill set enables her to retain her independence while still hanging on to her family ties.
As her reticent, bumbling intended, Motel, David James has a different and perhaps more difficult task: growing, within the short confines of the show from a yammering boy into a man who can set goals, earn a living, and actually care for and raise a family in the midst of grinding poverty and lurking, potentially murderous discrimination. James’ Motel is a marvelous portrayal, adding real depth to a character who can sometimes be overlooked.
Fiddler’s second odd couple—Tevye’s daughter Hodel and visiting schoolteacher (and radical) Perchik—portrayed by Debra Buonaccorsi and Shawn Kettering – strike a different balance as they take a different path, inevitably drawn in the dangerous direction of Revolutionary Russia. Kettering’s Perchik is oblivious to current realities, yet brutally honest in his passion and in his attentions, which, in turn, draws Hodel to him, as she, too, longs for a life removed from familiar and stifling surroundings. It’s a touching dual portrayal, enhanced further as Tevye tries—and fails—to successfully intervene.
Fiddler on the Roof
Closes April 28, 2013
Toby’s Dinner Theatre – Columbia
5900 Synmphony Woods Rd
3 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $51 – $54 includes dinner
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Tickets or call 800-888-6297
Fiddler is loaded with other colorful characters too numerous to mention here, although we’d be remiss if we didn’t also highlight Tevye’s bossy and belligerent wife, Golde, wonderfully portrayed by Jane C. Boyle who conveys a near perfect balance of acceptance with a surprisingly aggressive and pioneering spirit.
While David A. Hopkins’ set design and props were necessarily minimal for this in the round production, there were just enough of them to convey the sense of a small village enclave, a sense further enhanced by Celia Blitzer’s surprisingly effective peasant costuming and Coleen M. Foley’s minimalist lighting scheme.
Toby’s tiny instrumental ensemble, under the direction of Douglas Lawlor, couldn’t hope to duplicate a Broadway pit orchestra. Nonetheless they did quite well in conveying the atmospherics of a big, boisterous New York show, helped considerably by Drew Dedrick’s well calibrated sound design.
And overall, appropriately, the entire show coalesced around Fiddler’s near legendary score which is short on potboilers but long on memorable tunes ranging from the signature “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man” to “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and extending right along to the poignant and highly symbolic “Sunrise, Sunset.” Soloists were all accomplished, and the choral numbers were particularly well-realized. A hat-tip to all.
Fiddler on the Roof. Book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick . Director/choreographer: Tina DeSimone and David James . Music director: Douglas Lawlor . Sets: David A. Hopkins . Costumes: Celia Blitzer . Lighting: Colleen M. Foley . Sound design: Drew Dedrick . Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre . Reviewed by Terry Ponick