‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre

This weekend, the classic Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof was brought to life in spectacular fashion at the Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre. With music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, this show is truly a study in contrasts. The main theme is a father’s evolution from rigid adherence to tradition, to giving his eldest daughter permission to marry for love instead of relying on the advice of a matchmaker, to giving his blessing to another daughter to marry a radical activist, against a backdrop of social, political, and religious turmoil. Although this might sound like a relentlessly sad drama, Fiddler on the Roof has comedy to spare!

Dino P. Coppa, Sr. as Tevye and Tori Weaver as Golde. Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Theatre.
Dino P. Coppa, Sr. as Tevye and Tori Weaver as Golde. Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.

The story takes place in the small, predominantly Jewish village of Anatevka in Imperialist Russia in 1905. With silhouettes of houses in the background, a man sits precariously on top of a roof playing a violin. Tevye (Dino P. Coppa, Sr.), a poor dairyman, enters and explains that what prevents the man from falling down is “Tradition.” The entire cast joins him on stage and demonstrates in a lively dance number that the papas, the mamas, the sons, and the daughters, all have their specific places in society and they should stay in those places.

Of course, change is inevitable and Tevye dreams of being rich someday. He tells God that, while “being poor is no shame, it’s no great honor, either” and describes in delightful detail what his life would be like in, “If I Were a Rich Man,” Meanwhile, his wife Golde (Tori Weaver) is visited by Yente (Megan West) the matchmaker who wants to give Tevye’s and Golde’s 19-year-old daughter (Mary Ellen Cameron) in marriage to a wealthy 62-year-old butcher (David I. Marcus). Since Golde is intensely pragmatic, she agrees. However, after Yente leaves, the three oldest daughters mock the “Matchmaker” in beautiful harmony, while dancing with brooms.

Some of the men in the village discuss the latest news when a university student named Perchik (Matt Rothenberg), from Kiev, comes upon them and joins the conversation. When Perchik announces that, “Girls are people, too!” the men brand him a radical. Since he has no money for food, Tevye invites Perchik for Sabbath dinner with the promise that he could teach Tevye’s daughters in exchange for room and board. Then the entire cast carries candles and joins together in the hauntingly beautiful “Sabbath Prayer.”

Fiddler on the Roof is sometimes sad and sometimes funny, but always sensitive to the joys and sorrows of romantic love and familial love. The ultra-talented Dino P. Coppa, Sr. plays Tevye with ironic combinations, such as pride and humility, stubbornness, and flexibility, and anger and conciliation. When Tevye tries to fool his wife with an outrageous, made-up dream, the audience explodes into laughter. When Coppa sings about his third daughter, Chava, as a beautiful bird who flies away, we dissolved into tears.

Tevye’s practical wife, Golde, is brilliantly portrayed by Tori Weaver, who reveals the softer side of Golde as the couple sings “Do You Love Me?” and the wistful “Sunrise Sunset.” Tevye’s three teenage daughters are splendid, as well. Mary Ellen Cameron as Tzeitel, Sarah Biggs as Hodel, and Mallory Rome as Chava all turn in bravura performances, especially in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” The two younger sisters, played by Shaylee Chubin as Sprintze and Katherine Ford as Bielke, are equally wonderful.

Motel, the poor tailor, is played to nervous, self-effacing, intimidated perfection by Jordan B. Stocksdale—who does double duty as Music Director. Matt Rothenberg shines brightly as Perchik, the intelligent and charming radical student and Matthew A. Mastromatteo is very convincing in the the role of Fyedka, the Gentile who is the object of Chava’s affections. Joseph Waeyaert plays The Fiddler, along with several other featured roles, with vitality and panache.

Mary Ellen Cameron as Tzeitel and Jordan B. Stockdale as Motel. Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Theatre.
Mary Ellen Cameron (Tzeitel) and Jordan B. Stockdale (Motel). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.

The entire cast is dazzling as they perform challenging production numbers, with choreography by Dee Buchanan, with athleticism and artistry. In one case, the dancers do a Russian dance with bottles perched on their heads. In another, Fruma-Sarah, humorously played by Megan West, and Grandma Tzeitel, satirically performed by Johnna Leary, emerge from their graves in a dream sequence which includes Tevye and Golde in a bed that mysteriously divides and rejoins itself.

This production is skillfully directed by Bill Kiska, who also serves as Set Designer, and although the theatre has a relatively small stage, Kiska uses every inch artfully and effectively. The period costumes were designed and supplied by Flo Arnold of Flo’s Costume Service.

The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre is a gem that many more people should know about. In addition, the audience members get a great meal along with fascinating interactions with the actors before, during, and after the show—in a delightfully intimate setting. All this, plus a heart-warming story, stellar performances by a talented cast, wonderful songs and exciting dance numbers make Fiddler on the Roof at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre an experience that is not to be missed.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

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Fiddler on the Roof plays through May 30, 2015 at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre – 5 Willowdale Drive in Frederick, Maryland. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-6600. For general ticketing information please visit here.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.