Castaways Repertory Theatre Fiddler On The RoofBy Genie Baskir • May 8th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Castaways Repertory Theatre
A.J. Ferlazzo Building, Woodbridge, VA
Through May 19th
2:45 with intermission
Reviewed May 4th, 2012
Bubbies….Let us start from the end of this show. It really is not all that sad an ending. Our Anatevkaner refugees have three doors through which to move into new lives after expulsion from their homes. The ones who go through Door #1 will end up in Palestine working like pack animals for the Tsar’s cousin. Those who go through Door #2 and move elsewhere into Eastern Europe will live uncertainly until they emigrate to the New World or else die in the monster pogroms to come. The ones who accompany Tevye, wife Golde and the two little girls, Shprintze and Bielke, to the United States will live happily ever after and invent the all you can eat Chinese Buffet. Ding, ding, ding, ding!!!!
Fiddler on the Roof is based on the Tevye stories of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, a Galicianer Jew, writing as Sholem Aleichem. He elevated the Yiddish language from “jargon” to a near classical language with influence over contemporary American English. Though Galicianers were considered not as scholarly and literate as the Litvaks, it was Sholem Aleichem, a Galicianer, who was known in Europe as The Jewish Mark Twain. The ever ecumenical Samuel Langhorne Clemens cast himself, in return, as The American Sholem Aleichem.
The Tevye stories were combined with the story of Joel Russ and his Russ and Daughters delicatessen on the lower east side of New York, where all of the principals of the original production shopped and ate…and…they had a show!
Fiddler on the Roof takes place in 1905. It is in 1905 that Sholem Aleichem moves to the United States. Nicholas II, Tsar and Autocrat of All The Russias, abdicates absolute power and becomes a constitutional monarch after the 1905 Revolution establishes the first Russian House of Representatives known as the Duma. In 1905 Albert Einstein, another member of the tribe, with the assistance of his equally brilliant wife, Mileva Maric, not a member of the tribe, proposes the special theory of relativity. Alfred Dreyfus is living in Paris with a pardon for conviction of and waiting for exoneration of the false treason charges brought against him in France because he was Jewish. Moshe Mabovich of Milwaukee, Wisconsin sends to Russia and Poland for his wife and daughters; one of whom is named Golda. And, you guessed it, 1905 is the year that Joel Russ and his daughters arrive in New York and Joel starts selling noshes on the street. Our Anatevkaners don’t live in a vacuum.
Let’s get the difficult part over with and say that Castaways Repertory Theatre’s Fiddler on the Roof is not an umglik…but maybe a bit of a balagon. First of all, this is no Fiddler on the Roof. It is Fiddler…no roof; Fiddler…no fiddling; bow syncing to some occasionally off-key playing in the orchestra. Fiddler…no dance. Oy gevalt! Whelchn mir machn? Maybe Prince William County prohibits playing a violin from a roof. I can believe that. Fiddler on the Roof is a very large show. Large sets, large cast, large dancing and large orchestra. The Prince William County municipal theatre is just too small to stage this show properly and Director Zina Bleck was burdened with staging a behemoth in a small venue that is used concurrently by every local organization, thus requiring the striking of the set after almost every performance. The book, by Joseph Stein, is mildly imperfect to begin with, so the story, without music and dance to cover up the flaws, is not wholly plausible. Although this fact doesn’t have to be fatal this show requires context and state. It has none here because the venue doesn’t afford it. Musically, Fiddler is a mashup of Klezmer music and banal mid 20th century Tin Pan Alley. Klezmer music is an emotional, eternal and lyrical score bolstering the music that is the Yiddish language. Recognizable Klezmer dates from at least the 15th century and Klezmer partially underpins Spanish Flamenco music with its origins in 15th century Spain. (And we all know what happened to the Jews in 15th century Spain.) Klezmerim strike even your cynical and nasty Reviewer in her cold heart, but the performance here was a waltz tempo suitable for a restricted country club Saturday night dance. The non Klezmer show music, as composed, really is a last gasp; because, at the same time Fiddler on the Roof is being composed and arranged, two other members of the tribe, Bob Dylan and Brian Epstein are changing popular music forever. The dancing here isn’t quite a shanda, but, on the good side, there isn’t much of it to begin with. The stage is just too small for such a large cast to all dance together without poking an eye out. The Cossack dance was an explicit acknowledgement of two twains (please pardon the pun) being so close and never meeting….until …we’ll get to that in a little bit. That choreography was pretty good even if the execution lacked polish
Do me a favor:ignore that last paragraph and go see this show. The Castaways Repertory Theatre and its actors and crew are so lovely and sincere and nobody’s perfect anyway. Bleck took care to enlist a proper dramaturg and dialect coach (Harry Kantrovich, sounds like a member of the tribe) because otherwise such a show can easily descend into minstrelsy. The cast was so obviously proud to be in this show and they all looked so happy as they were performing. Going to this show is not a mitzvah, just a step in acknowledging dear people trying to do well by doing good. The cast is very large and the production crew could staff a battalion. A lot of care and love went into bringing this show to that pokey stage. So…your reviewer has decided that the usual thesis in reviewing a show should be rejected here and a separate not quite Talmudic question be posed.
How is the show supported and does that support carry the show? Fiddler on the Roof is sustained by three pillars: Tevye, Golde and Yente. Have our Tevye, Golde and Yente held up this show? Lakhlutn. Ding, ding, ding, ding!!! Jim Mitchell (Tevye) is a baritone of such splendid tone, he can be forgiven for speaking like Tony Soprano. On second thought, speaking like Jackie Mason is shtick and Mitchell can choose any kind of Tevye he wants to be. Belying his bearing and his work, Tevye is an educated man. Tevye is a lay philologist and Talmudist who engages in his study as he daydreams and laments his sorry condition to God…who isn’t listening. The real skeleton in the Ark of this show is that Tevye is observant, but he is not religious. He lives in the midst of a cult of Rabbis, yet he pursues another path and that path is the story played out here. His faith is in himself.
Golde (Rachel Harrington), Tevye’s tart wife is caught in a life she doesn’t know she can change. In her middle age she is wearing the proverbial pants in that household, steadfastly dominating over Tevye’s bluster. A very sweet moment in the show is when Tevye and Golde sing “Do You Love Me?” Tevye’s life of pondering leads to this question. Golde can’t conceive of this because it never occurred to her that she could think such a thought or have this kind of a question. And, she is a superstitious interpreter of dreams; but why is she is the object of japery when another member of the tribe, albeit in Vienna, smoking cigars and eating bacon, is publishing his own “The Interpretation of Dreams” and he is seen as a groundbreaking scholar? Golde is not so stupid. Harrington has a clear and strong voice and is charming as a 19th century woman being dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.
Yente the Matchmaker (Meganne Johnson) is a bit more ambiguous. Johnson eschews Yiddische shtick completely, for some sort of titter as she carries on bravely portraying a stock Yiddish character. But she’s okay at this. Yente may be a pain in the tuches, but Johnson is endearing and her performance supports the physical narrative of the show well. A minor Mishnaic query: once it becomes clear that no young girl will marry the hoary butcher, Lazar Wolf, why doesn’t Yente just match herself to him and save the young maidels of Anatevka from the overriding fear that some Tati will actually sell his daughter to that old goat for a bunch of free chickens? Lazar will still pay her her commission. Right? Of course…
Our young lovers are sweet. They are not cast badly, considering the amount of young people in this show and the possibilities of role assignments. They could have made a Yiddische Grease or Hairspray with this group. Maybe even True Blood. Motl (Jonathan Blank) is a sweet young man who missed his upsherin. He’s more of a mensch than he seems at first because he does get the girl. He sings his big Motl song “Miracle of Miracles”, but he doesn’t dance. He moves a little bit while Tzeitel (Jennifer Rubio) makes goo goo eyes at him and then the stage becomes spacious. Rubio is very cute; she looks like Barbie, also a member of the tribe. The same with Hodel (Rebecca King) and Perchik (Brian Johnson). King is probably the best singer in the younger group. Johnson tries for the dramatic high notes of his big Perchik song “Now I Have Everything”, but has some tsuris reaching them. Also, there’s no happy Jewish dancing going on here either. Nevertheless, we’re glad for the two of them. They are a match made in heaven by way of a Siberian gulag. Hodel gets to sing her big Hodel song “Far From the Home I Love” but this is not a good time to be sitting down, no matter what the Rabbi says.
Now, on to the twains. Chava (Hannah Sachs) takes up with Fyedka, not a member of the tribe, and marries him in a church. Oy vey ist mir! This is one matzo ball that Tevye is not swallowing and Chavaleh is declared dead…but not for long. Her mother embraces her and her father acknowledges her and they all leave town. But poor Chava and Fyedka don’t get their own song. The ensemble cast is a conglomeration of young people all dressed up like Fidel Castro, amazingly, also a member of the tribe. They are all lovely and doing their best to present a very complex musical. The rabbi (Gavin Tameris) is very smart…like Judge Judy (a member of the tribe); we should all sit down. Poor Tameris gave up trying to sound Yiddish. Whereas Mitchell really believed in his Tevyeness, Tameris’ Rabbiness was a bit tenuous and he looked like he needed some alone time in the men’s mikva.
Perchik and Tevye drag the Anatevkaners into the new century and a new world by dancing with their women in public. This is how we know God is not paying attention….she’s very busy with other stuff. Social ritual commanded that men and women associating in public together would send the men into such paroxysms of lust that that Tzeitel’s wedding to Motl would collapse into some depraved (is there any other kind?) orgy of beards and funny hats with women screaming in erotic desire for cake and copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Well… they all danced together anyway; no orgy, no God yelling at them to stop the unholiness and no Sodom and Gomorrah inferno. That was maybe a little disappointing. However, on the dark side, there is one mildly hairy pogrom which doesn’t result in too much of a mess; which is good because no one there has a maid to clean it up.
Director Bleck is to be congratulated for her non traditional casting. By casting young African-American Jonathan Faircloth as a real yenta, Avram, she elevates the ambitions of the arts and offers opportunities to actors that haven’t been acknowledged before. Maybe some day he will play Tevye. I particularly enjoyed the obvious enjoyment and comfortableness that Faircloth took in being dressed up like he was and fitting well into that group. He looked beautiful. Fruma Sarah (Amy Treat), on the other hand, has been watching too many “Real Housewives” programs, but she had a good time doing this…so as far as this reviewer is concerned….Treat succeeded in her effort because she can shout like Judge Judy.
The costumes were a highlight of the show and Sabrina Chandler and Claudia Tameris put in herculean effort to fringing (tsit tsit) and bearding (Katy Chmura, Rachel Harrington et al) their men…and some of their women. The women were simpler. Slap some schmattes on them and send them out on stage. The large female ensemble swirled and twirled in their long skirts and head schmattes and genuinely looked happy to be there. There was no laziness in this production and the dedication of everyone involved is so appreciable. Bleck took command of an army and won the battle. (Cue Yehoshua blowing his horn).
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then this reviewer saw a sweet and warmhearted production of a classic Broadway favorite with fine adult talent and beautiful children singing and dancing their hearts out. We live in a state of such loving diversity that we can all walk in one another’s shoes. There is no more upbeat thing one can do but go out and see Castaways’ Fiddler on the Roof. Go early and stop by the kosher counter at Wegman’s and have a nosh; then go see the show and have a snack at intermission…then go out afterward and eat Chinese buffet. After that, stop at someone’s house for coffee and cake. Mame, not a member of the tribe, said that life is banquet. Let’s not starve ourselves.
Rivke Gittel bat Izio vay Manya Baskir
Fiddler on the Roof is set in Tsarist Russia in 1905. It is based on Tevye and His Daughters (or Tevye the Milkman and Other Tales) by Sholem Aleichem that he wrote in Yiddish and published in 1894. Fiddler on the Roof was originally titled Tevye. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and traditions while outside influences impact their lives. The musical’s title stems from the painting “The Fiddler” by Marc Chagall, one of the many surreal paintings he created of Eastern European Jewish life, often including a fiddler. The Fiddler is a metaphor for survival, through traditions and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance.
The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest- running Broadway musical for almost ten years until Grease surpassed its run. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical score, book, direction and choreography.
Working on a show that takes place in the past is always a challenge bor everyone involved. One of the biggest challenges for the actors was to understand and portray characters that are full of life and hope for the future, but fear for the loss of their traditions and their very existence ina country that is making it harder every day for them to remain there. The cast took this task to heart and have worked very hard to bring to life this these wonderful people and this historic show. I cannot thank tham all enough for their hard work and dedication. I hope that you all take away a little of the magic of the Fiddler, which is needed as much now as it was then….
- Tevye: Jim Mitchell
- Golde: Rachel Harrington
- Tzeitel: Jennifer Rubio
- Hodel: Rebecca King
- Chava: Hannah Sachs
- Motl: Jonathan Blank
- Perchik: Brian Johnson
- Fyedka: Justin Janke
- Lazar Wolf: Chuck Leonard
- Yente: Meganne Johnson
- Constable: Eric Raterman
- Rabbi: Gavin Tameris
- Mendel: Miguel Lopez
- Rabbi’s Wife: Lorraine Crump
- Shaindel: Tricia Delavante
- Avram: Jonathan Faircloth
- Fruma-Sarah: Amy Treat
- Mordcha: Scott Morgan
- Mordcha’s wife: Katy Chmura
- Mordcha’s son: Thomas Bicknell
- Sasha: AlexBedont
- Nahum: Burke Romans-Murray
- Yussel: Barry Stout
- Grandma Tzeitel: Denise Mattingly
- Fiddler: Loren Stout
- Ensemble: Colin Chandler, Mackenzie Chandler, Jen Hood, Pat Jannell, Tammy Janke, Jennifer Lange, Masha Osborn, Ashley Stewart, Nora Zanger
- Director/Producer: Zina Bleck
- Assistant Director: Joe Philipoom
- Stage Manager: Stcy King
- Choreography: Marji Jepperson, Amy Tret
- Dance Captain: Katy Chmura
- Music Direction: Rachel Harrington, Charlie, Manship, Ken Farley
- Choral Direction: Lorraine Crump, Rachel Harrington
- Vocal Coach: Charlie Manship
- Dialect Coach, Dramaturg: Harry Kantrovich
- Fight Choreography: Zina Bleck
- Set Design: Jules Philipoom, Gavin Tameris, Zina Bleck
- Scenic Artist: Julie Philipoom
- Properties: Pat Jannell, Arwen Bicknell, Dora Osborn
- Lighting Design: Nancy Owens
- Sound Design: “K” Goins-Williams
- Costume Design: Sabrina Chandler, Claudia Tameris
- Hair/ Makeup: Katy Chmura, Rachel Harrington, et al
Disclaimer: Castaways Repertory Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8017.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.