Review: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Compass Rose Theater

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Compass Rose Theater’s production of Fiddler on the Roof is a lovely revival of the classic 1964 musical. With book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, it seems appropriate for Compass Rose’s final production at its Spa Road location, as they move into a new home in 2018.

G. Michael Harris commands the stage as Tevye the milkman, a careful balance of wariness and humor. His “conversations” with God are funny, remarking at one point, “I know we’re the chosen people, but every once in a while, could you choose someone else?” He circles the stage in “If I Were a Rich Man” his hands giving full expression to his dreams. In “To Life” he leaps across the stage full of joy, celebrating what he thinks will be a glorious match.

Michael Harris as Tevye and Mindy Cassle as Golde. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Harris also plays the emotional scenes perfectly, capturing his conflicted thoughts as he ponders his daughters’ decisions. His most powerful scene is with Chava’s (Marina Jansen) request, nearly in tears as he wonders what to do. He sings “Chavaleh” tearfully, as Jansen dances beautifully. She gives Chava a youthful innocence, demanding her father accept her choice of a partner, then collapsing to the ground in tears as he walks offstage. In their last scene together, he ignores her, his back to her as he loads his cart. It is a heartbreaking moment.

Mindy Cassle plays Golde, his wife, with a quiet strength. “Do You Love Me?” is a sweet, tender moment between her and Harris, as they sit in chairs, their hands touching each other, while she never quite thought of their relationship as love. Pragmatic, as they are forced to leave their village, she remarks, “Eh, it’s just a place.”

Stephanie Ichniowski gives a deep love to Tzeitel, the oldest daughter. She breaks into tears upon hearing Lazar Wolfe (Joe Rossi) will marry her. Piers Portfolio plays Motel excellently, hesitant with Harris at first, then growing bolder. Harris furiously grabs Portfolio and lifts him up in anger. Portfolio later gives a wonderful declaration of love in “Miracle of Miracles,” twirling Ichniowsky around the stage.

Anna Deblasio plays Hodel with great love as well. She and Joe Mucciolo, who plays Perchik, have wonderful chemistry, her initial distrust of him quickly giving way to a mutual attraction. They are very physical together, dancing several times even before their wedding. His passion for challenging tradition and improving things comes through clearly, as does her love for him. Her strongest moment is in “Far from the Home I Love,” a powerfully emotional song as she leaves everything she’s known.

Logan Beveridge gives a calm, considered performance as Fyedka, charming Chava out of her initial hesitation and discussing their shared love of books. Even though he shakes things up the most, he plays it cool.

Joe Rossi plays Lazar Wolfe as a more successful version of Tevye. Indeed, the two even dress similar. Rossi gives a confidence to the role, laughing at Tevye’s initial misunderstanding, and appears gracious when Tevye reneges on the deal.

Tracy Haupt gives a cheerful lightness to the Innkeeper, and plays Fruma-Sarah with ghostly fun, chasing Harris around before strangling him. Rebecca Dreyfuss plays Yente the matchmaker with great comic timing, promising great things with her choice of husbands but having disappointing results.

Marianne Meadows has done a wonderful job as Lighting Designer, using the lights to help set both the scene and the changing mood throughout the show. During Tevye’s monologues discussing his daughters, a spotlight shines on him. In “The Dream,” the light casts the stage in a menacing, supernatural light when Fruma-Sarah appears.

Piers Portfolio as Motel, Michael Harris as Tevye, and Stephanie Ickniowski as Tzeitel. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Renee Vergauwen does a great job as Costume Designer, the outfits looking perfectly appropriate for early 20th Century Russia. Tevye wears a dark plaid shirt with a gray vest, a prayer shawl poking out, and a black skullcap. Chava wears a blue skirt, a light blue shirt, and a green headscarf. The Innkeeper has a long, colorful headscarf. Fruma-Sarah wears a thick white shroud-like veil over her head, concealing her face. Fyedka looks dashing in a white military shirt and red cravat.

Properties by Joan and Mike Gidos make for a simple yet effective set. Chairs and stools are placed throughout the stage. The staging is done “alley style” with the audience seated on both sides and the stage in the center. Paintings are on the far side of the stage, showing a small cottage and fence and tree. The set’s simplicity creates a feeling of intimacy between the actors and audience.

The music is wonderfully done, performed by Mike Jarjoura on a piano at the back of the stage, blending perfectly with the singing. Anita O’Connor has done a terrific job as Music Director, the actors hitting every song with the right emotional punch, from the spiritual sense of community in “Sabbath Prayer” to the joyous, festive feel of “Wedding Dance.” Songs like “Tradition” and “Matchmaker” feel familiar without being cliched.

Andrew Gordon does excellent work as Choreographer, creating beautiful movements for the actors. This is especially the case in “Wedding Dance,” which ends with two performers dancing with bottles balanced carefully on their hats. During an argument between Tevye and Lazar Wolfe, the cast swirls around the stage. It makes the show a visual treat.

Lucinda Merry-Browne has done a wonderful job as Director. The actors navigate the stage and each other easily and naturally. All the elements come together for a delightful evening of great music, singing, and acting. The show will be playing in their new location as well, but for now, catch it at their Spa Road theater for laughter and a few tears.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.

Fiddler on The Roof plays through January 21, 2018 at Compass Rose Theater – 49 Spa Road in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-980-6662 or purchase them online.