There’s a fantastic cart-dragging, cow-milking, heartwarming Tevye at The Bowie Playhouse in 2nd Star Production’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. Local favorite Fred Nelson tackles the starring role for the first time in his long career.
With a glint in his eye, a big smile, and a solid sense of comedic timing, Nelson displays the joy in Tevye’s life as husband and father. At the same time, he expresses the weariness of a dairyman in a life of poverty, instability and persecution in 1905 Czarist Russia. As Tevye explains to the audience as the show opens, in Anatevka everyone is a “Fiddler on the Roof – trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. You may ask, ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!”
While Fiddler opened on Broadway 48 years ago, the show’s themes – family, love, faith, and the desire for tradition in the face of upheaval and change -are as fresh as ever. Tevye has five daughters and the older girls are now of marrying age. Tevye and his wife Golde were not permitted to make independent decisions about who they would marry, so with the help of a matchmaker, their fathers determined who they would marry. Tevye believes his daughters should marry in the same way. As Tevye says, “Marriages must be arranged by the papa!” He wants them to marry educated men with financial resources so they can have better lives. Unfortunately, his daughters have different ideas.
The eldest, Tzeitel (Erin Lorenz), is not interested in the matchmaker’s choice of the butcher, an older widower. She loves Motel (Stevie Mangum), the earnest, but poor, young tailor. Lorenz has an expressive face that is perfect for the sister who experiences the joy of young love and the fear of a marriage to a man she does not love. Mangum gives a charming performance as Motel, effectively combining joy, humor, and pathos.
Malarie Novotny, who plays Tevye’s second daughter Hodel, has a wonderfully clear, lyrical voice. Hodel’s interest in Perchik, the radical from Kiev, upsets Tevye as does his daughter Chava’s interest in Fyedka (Zac Fadler), a boy of a different faith. Fadler’s maturity on stage is displayed as Fyedka first protects Chava and then takes a risk knowing his advances toward Chava may be rejected. Fadler has acted in 16 previous 2nd Star productions, amazing in that he only recently graduated from high school. He will be attending NYU in the fall to study musical theater.
Tevye’s wife Golde, given just the right mixture of chutzpah and maternal love by actress Andrea Bush, allows Tevye the belif that he, the father, makes the decisions for the family, as tradition dictates. But it is clear she is a strong, guiding force within the family. The most poignant moment between Tevye and Golde comes in Act Two when he asks, in song, “Do You Love Me?”
It is always a testament to the skills of the writer and director when a production’s secondary roles are as three-dimensional as the primary characters. The book by Joseph Stein lays the foundation and Director Brian Douglas builds upon it as he brings out strong performances from Rita Kidolis as Yente and Tim Sayles as Lazar Wolf, the butcher.
Fiddler has some of the most well-known songs written for musical theater. With music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, this production does justice to the songs, especially when the entire company sings together. From “Tradition,” the show’s opening number, to “Matchmaker,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” to “Anatevka,” the closing song, Music Director Joe Biddle brings out the best from the cast. “Sabbath Prayer,” while lesser known, is one of my favorite songs and I was not disappointed. It was well-staged and eloquently sung. Biddle’s orchestra of 13 is unexpected in a smaller venue but certainly added to the professionalism of the production and play the popular score beautifully.
Choreographer Christine Asero, challenged by a large cast on an intimate stage, is able to deliver dances that are vibrant and exciting. The entire audience held its breath as the wedding guests performed the bottle dance. Dance Captain and Featured Dancer Vivian Wingard danced with a joy that makes it difficult to look elsewhere.
Set Designer Brian Douglas has created building sets that can be transformed from interiors to exteriors. He and the set construction team are to be commended for the professional look of the sets. I hope that in future performances, the sets can be moved in a more timely manner. With 18 scene changes, almost every one of them requiring the three set pieces to be unlocked, rotated, repositioned, and relocked, there is too much time between scenes. In several cases, the orchestra completed the music before the sets were finished being moved. This “dead air” was quite annoying.
In our contemporary world with change coming so quickly in all areas of our life, we might consider the humble Tevye and his approach to life. His love for tradition does not keep him from considering new ways. Ultimately, the unfairness of life does not keep him from celebrating life.
Even if you are not a rich man (or woman), go see 2nd Star Productions’ Fiddler on the Roof. You will appreciate the talents of both cast and crew, and you will experience what the New York Times called in its 1964 review, “a musical filled with laughter and tenderness.”
Running Time: Three hours, with one intermission.
Fiddler on the Roof plays through June 30 at 2nd Star Productions at the Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call (410) 757-5700 or (301) 832-4819, or purchase them online.