‘Fiddler on the Roof JR’ at BRAVO@KAT by Eric Denver

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“A Fiddler on the Roof, sounds crazy, no?” That quote is the book’s first line of this classic musical which opened on September 22, 1964 on Broadway. One may ask…how could you possibly compare a three hour Broadway show to the JR  that’s only one hour long? Not so fast…don’t underestimate the ingenuity of Bravo@KAT Theatre for Young Artists’ Producer Laurie Levy Issembert and Director Darnell Morris.

Ethan Miller (Tevye) and Goldie (Tobi Baisburd). Photo by Erica Keys Land.
Ethan Miller (Tevye) and Goldie (Tobi Baisburd). Photo by Erica Keys Land.

Despite the fact that this authorized Fiddler kid’s version has eliminated some of the dialogue, 13 songs from the Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock score remained intact. What has not changed is Fiddler’s impact – the powerful message of persecution and poverty is still evident while the characters simultaneously struggle for maintaining their traditions.

We are sure that most of our readers are very aware of this superb musical that hasn’t loss its power to force one to ponder alternatives: “On one hand, but on the other hand” as Tevye repeatedly states throughout the musical. In order for the young performers to learn the historical context of this musical, they were provided all the necessary information to build this important emotional connection. Fiddler on the Roof is hardly dated because the themes of the show still challenge many families.

I had the chance to talk with Laurie Levy Issembert before the show began. This is the inaugural year for Bravo@KAT. The performers are from Montgomery County schools and most have participated in theatrical classes in their respective school environments, but Bravo@KAT’s mandate is providing the professional opportunity. Forty-five performers auditioned for roles in Fiddler and 42 were selected. Some were neophytes; others have performed in numerous roles elsewhere.

The show did not have a live orchestra and utilized pre-recorded music. Although I have had negative reactions to such arrangements in the past, here it worked well. Some of the major roles in the show were played by different actors over a course of the three performances that were given each day of the two day run.

I saw the very first of the six performances, so here I am reviewing the Fiddler Cast‘s June 8, 2013 – 1 PM performance.”

Ethan Miller superbly performed the role of Tevye, the most difficult role in the musical, since he was on stage 90% of the time. Miller’s voice was forceful and convincing as the patriarch of the family and his vocal range was impressive. His delivery of “If I Were a Rich Man” garnered loud applause. His costume of a disheveled but religious man leading his horse & buggy around the stage was even more convincing with his bearded face, which made him appear much older and wiser than his actual age of 12 years.

Tobi Baisburd was a terrific Golde. As Tevye’s local and long-suffering wife, Tobi gave a multi-level performance showing devotion to her husband and daughters, but also displaying her humorous side as she connived with the locals to get her way.

Shira Minsk, who played Tzeitel, the eldest daughter, and her sisters sang glorious harmonies in “Matchmaker.” The tailor Motel played by Simon Diesenhaus, who Tzeitel eventually marries, wowed the audience with his sweet tenor in his rendition of “Miracle of Miracles. In the dream sequence, that Tevye ‘hatched,’ Jenna Land (Grandma Tzeitel) and Amanda Primosch (Fruma-Sarah) did a tremendous job and their hysterics had the audience in stitches.

I was thrilled that some of the traditional Jewish customs were maintained throughout the play like breaking the glass at a wedding, blessing the children during “Sabbath Prayer,” and kissing the prayer shawl) before the marriage ceremony began.

The “Sabbath Prayer” scene was especially sentimental when the entire came out into the audience – each with a small lit candle – as they sang the opening lyrics together, ”May the Lord Protect and Defend You.”

The cast of 'Fiddler on the Roof JR' Photo by Erica Keys Land.
The cast of ‘Fiddler on the Roof JR’ Photo by Erica Keys Land.

If you missed this fabulous production you will be able to attend BRAVO@KAT’s  2013-2014 upcoming season which includes productions of Beauty and the Beast in January and A Chorus Line in March. Stop ‘fiddling’ around and get busy marking down those dates, and purchasing tickets.

Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.

Fiddler on the Roof played six shows in two days on June 8 and 9, 2013 at BRAVO@KAT at The Randolph Road Theatre – 4010 Randolph Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For future productions, tickets can be purchased online.