I feel a bit like Tevye looking to the heavens for assistance. I just saw a very earnest but uneven production of Fiddler on the Roof over in Annapolis, and I could use a little guidance from above as how to navigate the thicket of the three-star review, respecting the artists and their efforts without overselling its merits on the one hand and judging its faults too harshly on the other.
On the one hand, I respect Compass Rose and director Lucinda Merry-Browne’s vision for a minimalist, almost trunk-show Fiddler. Tevya’s cart and four chairs are the entirety of the set. It’s a show built to move, because it will. After December 31st, midway through the run, they move to a new space across town that will tide them over for a few years until the completion of a proposed development project that includes a 6,800 sq ft permanent home (pending approval for the development and funding for the theatre space).
Inasmuch as a show with a cast of fourteen can be minimalist, the galley-style staging gives us an engagingly intimate, close-up look into Anatevka. Some cast members play multiple roles, and some roles are merged together. The big musical numbers like “To Life” and the wedding celebration are shrunk down out of necessity due to the tiny performance space – though the bottle dance is kept intact, thankfully!
On the other hand, not everything survives the reduction in scale unscathed. Instead of an orchestra, we have a piano (but then, it’s preferable to a pre-recorded soundtrack). It’s a little odd for the raucous proceedings in the tavern to be chilled by the appearance of a single Russian soldier, though I suppose given the imbalance of power between the Russian army and the Jewish peasants, it’s within the realm of credibility. And although I understand the reasoning for not having the titular roof or – save for the opening moment of the play – the fiddler, both are missed, especially at the end.
Michael Harris on playing Tevye
But on the other hand, Michael Harris is a warm, compelling Tevye who captures his boisterous joie de vivre and his deep-rooted faith, and Mindy Cassle is his equal as his sharp-tongued wife Golde. His daughters and their assorted beaux are capable ingenues – Anna DeBlasio’s Hodel and Joe Mucciolo’s Perchik are especially engaging. Piers Portfolio is an inspired dancer. Young Marina Jansen as Chava has a lovely ‘dream ballet’ moment, and her forbidden romance with Logan Beveridge’s Fyedka is sweetly touching, although the pair’s age difference – no fault of theirs! – is a bit unsettling. Even reduced in scale, the big numbers are still realized with lively, spirited dancing choreographed by Andrew Gordon, and the smaller numbers have breadth and depth that fill the space.
Fiddler on the Roof
closes January 21, 2018
Details and tickets
But on the other hand, I struggle to overlook a number of shortcomings I wouldn’t expect from a professional theatre, even a smaller one. For every bit of clever staging, there’s a momentum-killing blackout and scene change, or a superfluous dance sequence, that makes the show drag in places. Plus I could overlook an occasional slippery finger on the piano (after all, it’s one guy, he’s got a lot on his shoulders) or a stray sour note in the ensemble (if you’re reading this, I don’t mean you) but they add up after a while, and yes, it was opening weekend and it’ll get sharper and tighter, but still. And oy veh, the rabbi’s beard (but then Kienan McCartney plays multiple characters, and appeared to be overcoming tech week plague, so maybe this was an understudy beard while the original was getting steamed and sterilized?).
I remain sympathetic to Compass Rose and the challenge they face in being nominally part of the DC theatre family while struggling to overcome the perhaps unfair perception that Annapolis is juuuust a bit too far to draw audiences and established artists from DC and Baltimore. They’re obliged to cast a wider net for actors, and a good number of them are being hosted in town from points afar. For my part, I was at the Sunday matinee and got there from Silver Spring (albeit with no traffic) in 45 minutes. And given the spaces they’ve had to endure, a strip mall office space preceded this Spa Road location, I sure hope they get a permanent home. They deserve it.
In the end, the show is solid enough (and will get more so in the coming weeks) to satisfy their Annapolis-area base and the parents/family/friends/fans of the cast. Beyond them, if you’re a Fiddler on the Roof fan, or you want to celebrate Hanukkah, it’s worth the trip if you have a car. And it brought back warm memories of when I was eight or nine and saw the touring production with Herschel Bernardi, the first ‘real’ play I ever saw, and the undergrad production we did and the friendships that remain decades later (small world, their Tevye is now the Artistic Director of Rep Stage).
On the other hand… drat, I’m all out of hands.
Fiddler on the Roof, by Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music), and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics). Cast: G. Michael Harris (Tevye), Mindy Cassle (Golde), Stephanie Ichniowski (Tzeitel), Anna DeBlasio (Hodel), Piers Portfolio (Motel), Joe Mucciolo (Perchik), Joe Rossi (Lazar Wolf), Rebecca Dreyfuss (Yente), Kienan McCartney (Rabbi etc), Logan Beveridge (Fyedka etc), Tracy Haupt (Fruma-Sarah, Inkeeper etc), Hanna Hall (Shprintze, Mendel etc), Marina Jansen (Chava), Elizabeth Moore (Bielke, Nachum etc). Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Music Direction: Anita O’Connor.Production Supervisor: Mary Ruth Cowgill. Choreographer: Andrew Gordon. Lighting Design: Marianne Meadows. Costume Design: Renee Vergauwen. Props: Joann and Mike Gidos. Accompanist: Mike Jarjoura. Stage Manager: Caitlin Weller. Produced by Compass Rose Theater. Review by John Geoffrion.
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