‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia by Amanda Gunther

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Tradition! And nobody knows more about tradition than Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia as they proudly present Fiddler On The Roof. Directed and Choreographed by Tina DeSimone and David James with Musical Direction by Douglas Lawler, this timeless classic is a story about love; love of family, love of heritage, love of community.

Tzeitel (Tina Marie DeSimone) Golda (Jane C. Boyle) and Motel (David James). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.
Tzeitel (Tina Marie DeSimone) Golde (Jane C. Boyle) and Motel (David James). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

A rich production filled with historical and ethnic detail Fiddler on the Roof takes place in a little village where a poor dairyman tries to instill to his five daughters the importance of the traditions of his tight-knit Jewish community in the face of the social revolution taking place in Czarist Russia. It is a touching musical ripe with warmth, humor and honesty; a heartfelt show that will leave you with tears of happiness, tears of sorrow, and the urge to hug your family by the end of it.

Costume Designer Celia Blitzer refines the production with an experienced hand. Each villager’s outfit looks careworn and drab, allowing the simple excitements of the community to come from the actions and events rather than how they look. This is appropriate for a village stricken mostly by poverty. The rich earthy tones in the design mirrors the symbolic relation the characters have with their land and their home. Blitzer does marvelous work with the ghostly white outfits for Tevye’s nightmare, particularly the ghoulishly haunting and yet serenely beautiful piece used for the enormous ghost of Fruma-Sarah.

Directors David James and Tina DeSimone lend their skilled hands to the dancing of this production which makes for a lively showing of the more traditional Jewish dances. The most impressive of all being the Bottle Dance where we see six men with bottles of spirits balanced atop their heads, moving with graceful fluidity as they traverse the elevations, ending ultimately on their knees for a sliding kick line that brings thunderous applause from the audience. James and DeSimone’s choreography keeps the high spirits of Jewish celebration incorporated into all of the spin circles and fondly rhythmic movements; all the dancing executed with a sense of pride and noble heritage.

The ensemble in this production often carries a somber tone to their melodious efforts, but maintains a powerful sound and pure quality to their songs. Numbers like “Tradition” have a boisterous yet humble sound to them as if the villagers are proud to be singing and welcoming you to their lives. The bittersweet moments fall periodically throughout the production, but none so poignant as the ensemble’s rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset,” creating perfect harmonies in the background as Tevye and Golde sing this slightly mellowed tune of progression at their daughter’s wedding.

With a cast of well seasoned veterans reprising their roles in this timeless musical it is no wonder that so many of them catch your eye, each fitted perfectly into their place of the community of Anatevka. The Rabbi (Alan Hoffman) is the revered holy figure in the community, adding little hints of comic relief by having prayers for sewing machines and showing his outward distaste for the Czar in a prayer of mockery. The bitter villainous Constable (Lawrence B. Munsey) storms the scene only thrice but makes his vile presence well known in his short clipped speeches and towering figure. And then there is the title character, the actual Fiddler on the Roof (Ray Hatch). A silent character, but Hatch is ever present, playing his fiddle and watching over all that happens in the little village; a symbolic representation of the ever-present God.

More vocally making their presence known are those veterans featured in Tevye’s dream sequence, which is more like a nightmare with humorous moments sprinkled throughout to keep the moment from growing too dark. Grandma Tzeitel (Katie Heidbreder) may wobble about with her cane like a frail old spirit but her vocal prowess provides shrieks of advice that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. But the haunting spectre of this scene comes from the ghastly and tragically beautiful Fruma-Sarah (Heather Marie Beck). Lending her vast vocal range at the top of her volume to the apparition, Beck wails a pox upon the marriage of Tzeitel to her ex-husband from beyond the grave with a frightening radiance. And keep your eyes out for the shenanigans of Jeffrey Shankle and Ray Hatch – the mischievous instrumental spirits in this scene, providing enough bang to wake the dead.

With every good village there comes a matchmaker and Anatevka is no exception. Yente (Susan Porter) is a superstitious old hen with a little gossip that goes a long way. Despite having no songs of her own, Porter stands out with her comic timing and subtle accent, giving her character a nice gritty depth as she advises matches for Golde’s girls.

Having five daughters is indeed a handful in the house of Tevye and Golde, but they each hold their own vocally. Putting them together for “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” really lets this quintet’s bubbly bright nature shine through. Shprintze (Arielle Gordon) and Bielke (Amanda Kaplan) have innocent voices filled purity and chastity, presented with a much more solemn tone in “Chaveleh.”

Fruma-Sarah (Heather Beck) and the ancestors. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.
Fruma-Sarah (Heather Beck) and the ancestors. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Chava (Katie Heidbreder) is the third oldest and falls tragically in love with an outsider, Fyedka (Jeffrey Shankle.) While never having a love song of their own, their subtle flirtations rise to the surface all too easily; reminding us all that love in the face of adversity is never simple. Shankle does get a rousing moment of blatant belting in “To Life” showcasing his talented singing ability.

The respectable radical Perchik (Shawn Kettering) comes to woo daughter number two, Hodel (Debra Buonaccorsi) with his modern charm. Kettering shakes up the scene from the moment he arrives with his progressive way of thinking. Playing an astute character with sharp wit and a scholarly learned tongue, Kettering manages to appeal to Buonaccorsi’s senses after initially being uncertain of him. Her song “Far From The Home Love” is a deeply moving ballad of melancholy that speaks volumes of her love for both her father and family as well as Perchik far from the home of her heart.

But the pair of pairs in this production is Tzeitel (Tina DeSimone) and Motel (David James). Bringing their well-trained voices, aptitude of comic timing, and raw earthiness to the two young lovebirds this duo of dynamically rich veteran performers provides a youthful exuberance that you won’t see anywhere else. DeSimone masters the number of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” strutting her stuff around the stage posing as Yente; a highly hilarious moment that wins her tumultuous applause from the audience. Her well-practiced vocals bring an emotional depth to the character that allow the audience to truly feel her plight of not wanting to marry Lazar Wolf (Andrew Horn) and wanting to be the first of her kind to marry for true love.

Their moments together, particularly after James’s heartwarming solo in “Miracle of Miracles,” are precious and lighthearted, spinning each other around, with James leaping over-zealously from the bench whilst DeSimone floats on the swing like a young girl in love. James’s physical comedy shtick plays well to the character’s nerves and makes him a truly entertaining experience. Together the pair make for the perfect lovebirds with an elation and keen sense of real love that reigns throughout the production.

Golde (Jane C. Boyle) is a force to be reckoned with. Playing the head of the household, while only being the mother, Boyle brings a vibrant life to the stereotype of the kvetching Jewish mother. She is no nonsense and always in control, often more so than Tevye and allows for great moments of comedy to transcend the denser subject matters of the production. Her voice is that of a songbird coming to soar high during songs like “Sunrise, Sunset” and her duet with Tevye, “Do You Love Me?” is sweet and heartwarming. Boyle is perfect foil to the comically distraught Tevye (David Bosley-Reynolds) making for a masterful match against Reynolds’ stellar performance.

David Bosley-Reynolds as Tevye. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.
David Bosley-Reynolds as Tevye. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

The heart of the show revolves around its narrator. On the other hand, David Bosley-Reynolds is just a simple dairyman. And on the other hand he is a deeply rich character that reveals his true humanity to the audience. And on the other hand he’s a barrel of laughs that keeps you captivated and engaged no matter what he’s doing. Reynolds’s smooth classical vocal range does a swift and pure justice to every song he sings, particularly “If I Were A Rich Man,” enchanting the audience to watch him, unable to take your eyes off him.

Reynolds provides layer after layer of dynamic exposure to the character of Tevye, making him a real man with real troubles, bending to please his daughters, bending for the sake of love, but above all keeping his faith. His soliloquies that are actually conversations with God keep the levity of the overall situation afloat, and his little comedic outbursts with his daughters, frightening Motel, and rousing (and in some cases running away from) his wife are epic. “To Life,” shared with Andrew Horn, shows both of their boisterous partying sides, while the little asides of “Traditions (reprises)” in the pauses between scenes shows just how down to earth Reynolds can be. There are not enough words to describe his sensational talent. David Bosley-Reynolds was made for this role!

Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with one intermission.

Fiddler on the Roof plays through April 28, 2013 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For reservations, call (301) 596-6161, or purchase them online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.

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