If I were a rich man, I would buy you all tickets to go to the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre’s production of Fiddler on the Roof where they are stirring up new traditions! The hit Broadway classic mounts to the compressed in the round space in a way that would seem impossible, bringing the dreary yet proud lives of the Jewish people from Anatevka right into your lap. You are no longer simply watching Tevye struggle to find a little happiness in his impoverished life while trying to marry off five daughters and keep the peace in the village, you are one of his brethren with whom he shares his story. Directed by Jillian Bauersfeld with superb Musical Direction provided by Michael Tan, the familiar bittersweet story will bring a laugh to your heart and a tear to your eye in this impressive production.
Hats off (but only if you’re a gentile) to Set Designer Alan Zemla for his incredible scenic work with this production. Designing for the epic show is one challenge on its own, but doing so in the very confined and intimate space of the Spotlighter’s stage requires nothing short of a miracle. Zemla amazes the audience by actual crafting a roof space and then sticking the fiddler on top of it. His double-wide swing-sliding doors that fold out to reveal the interior of Tevye’s home are stunning considering how functional and beautifully painted they are. Zemla’s attention to detail truly brings a passionate love of the show into the design, look for the little birds on the roof and the tiny eyes of the mice hiding in the walls of the house. Leaving no stone unturned, Zemla even constructs a full sized and fully functional wagon cart for Tevye to drag throughout the village.
Keeping the faith in true Jewish style is Costume Designer Laura Nicholson. The religious accuracy that is reflected in her design work showcases a humble but noble people. Given that the color schemes are mostly drab to uphold the notion of poverty and simpler times, Nicholson’s truly impressive designs come from beyond the grave. Both Grandma Tzeitel and Fruma-Sarah have gloriously macabre outfits. A glittery ghastly gown of gleaming white for Grandma and the most morbidly shredded shroud of moldering green and gruesome grayish-blue befits the long-dead ghost of Lazar Wolf’s first wife. Nicholson’s work carries on the tradition of prayer shawls and head scarves in a manner truly befitting the production.
Doubling as the show’s Choreographer, Director Jillian Bauersfeld has the right idea for the energy of the dances. However, her overall execution of nearly every dance routine in the piece is clunky and sloppy. The dance numbers become a jumble of way too many people on the stage at once, and while the tone of merriment is there, especially for the dances at the wedding, it is difficult to enjoy what’s happening as a whirlwind of chaotic bodies is all the audience ends up seeing. Even the Russian dances during “To Life” end up looking like little more than people having spastic kick fits with no particular rhythm or series of specific movements to guide them. While the dancing may not be Bauersfeld’s strong suit, she does have a strong notion of how to properly block that number of people when she wants them to be standing still.
Musical Director Michael Tan, also serving as the pit’s conductor and keyboardist, makes brilliant decisions that deserve thunderous applause. Bringing to the scene BSA student and Peabody Youth Orchestra member Sebastian Stefanovic, Tan incorporates this incredibly talented young lad into the show by making him the title character. Having a live person actually playing the fiddle in the role of the fiddler makes all the difference in the world to the production. Stefanovic is a godsend on his violin, making beautiful music as well as truly striking emotional connections with Tevye throughout the production. Seeing him on the roof at the end of the production, playing one final tune and locking eyes with Tevye brought tears of an honest and bittersweet nature to my eyes.
Tan’s vocal work with the cast is truly astonishing.The ensemble creates a larger-than-life sound for Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s beautiful numbers like “Tradition” and keeps that same intensity but with a more somber feel for both “Sabbath Prayer” and “Anatevka.” His subtle nuances, like choosing to guide Golde more softly in “Do I Love You” so that her role becomes curious and shy rather than dismissive and overt displays his deep understanding of the story and music of this production.
Bright voices are aplenty in the village of Anatevka, particularly in the nightmares of Tevye. Grandma Tzeitel (Barbara Pinker) and Fruma-Sarah (Evangeline Ridgway) lend their uniquely talented sounds to “The Dream.” Pinker is a nattering shrill shrew when it comes to her solo verse but comic nonetheless. Ridgway, a true powerhouse of frightening proportions, shrieks with a maniacal madness that harkens the warnings of the dead. Both voices are well worth note, Ridgway’s being featured again as a brief soloist in “The Rumor.” The other voice of major note among the ensemble is Vince Vuono. Featured in “To Life” with the ‘Russian solo’ section his boisterous belt could easily break every bottle in the bottle dance. A stunning sound from such an enthusiastic young man; truly reminds the audience of how we are meant to be enjoying life!
Five daughters, that’s Tevye’s headache right? Of course right! And with a meddlesome Yente (Suzanne Young) to mix things up every once in a while, things could not be better in the household of the papa. Young is quite the character and makes for a few good laughs throughout the production, particularly when coming to match up Shprintze (Lillian Blank) and Biekle (Grace La Count) toward the end of the show.
The other three daughters, Hodel (Alexa Canelos) Chava (Julia Capizzi) and Tzeitel (Emily Blondi) create joyous harmonies for “Matchmaker.” Canelos has a rich emotional voice, heard later in her solo “Far From the Home I Love,” lamenting how truly torn her heart and soul is when she chooses to leave her family behind in favor of her imprisoned betrothed, Perchick (Lucas Blake). Blake is a hot-headed revolutionary with a fiery temper when it comes to the politics of the world. The pair has great chemistry, built after spending their first series of interactions barbing and biting at one another; keeping the youthful sparks of young love easily flying between them.
Blondi as Tzeitel enjoys an equally great chemistry with her Motel (Vince Vuono.) Meek and mousy it takes a while to realize that Vuono’s character is in fact a man. He jitters with nerves whenever he’s around Tevye but when it comes to his love of Tzeitel, his heart is bursting with joy. Vuono’s solo “Miracle of Miracles” has him leaping to life, his voice jingling along with his bouncing heart, everything in his world spinning with a complete sense of unyielding happiness.
Golde (Amy Bell) is the mother of the house and makes it known every chance she gets. Bell at first is a shy performer when it comes to singing, soft spoken and reserved. The chemistry between her and Tevye (Mike Galizia) is non-existent, which serves its purpose for a much greater emotional reveal in “Do I Love You,” the duet she shares with her husband. Bell and Galizia create a simple yet serene harmony in this duet, echoing emotions of uncertain but true love.
Galizia is a larger than life voice that is nothing short of phenomenal. Reaching deep into his well-rounded and operatically trained vocal range, the audience is treated to a blissfully rich sound for “If I Were a Rich Man.” Galizia’s voice in this song is pure and crisp, sharing every word of his dream with the audience, personally inviting us with his smiles and winks to live it with him while simultaneously reflecting the exhaustion of his life in his body; a brilliant juxtaposition of faith and reality if ever there was one. His voice is incredibly intense for songs like “Sabbath Prayer” and boisterously bold and boastful for “To Life,” stealing the thunder from that song.
A well-rounded performer, Galizia brings fresh insight to the character, reflecting deep into the emotional turmoil of Tevye’s life and difficult decisions every time he has an aside sung to god, calling into question the traditions he has known all his life. Watching his facial expressions proves to be some of the most entertaining as well as the most heartfelt moments of the production.
Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes, with one intermission.
Fiddler on the Roof plays through August 4, 2013 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 North. Saint Paul Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.