"FIDDLER ON THE ROOF" — like "Gypsy," "Mame," "The Music Man," and others -- is one of thoseshows that goes only as far as its star will take it.
The best ensemble in the world becomes superfluous if your Mama Rose, Mame Dennis, Harold Hill or Tevye the Dairyman can't light up the stage single-handedly.
I am happy to report that the Annapolis Dinner Theater's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" is dominated by David Reynolds, who imbues the Jewish dairyman from the Ukraine with humanity, humor and insightfulness as he strives to balance the need for tradition and stability with the necessity of change in a changing world.
Reynolds has proven himself to be a first-rate comedian in other productions, so it is not surprising that the comic Tevye is very much in evidence. Facial expressions, spousal sniping, misquoted biblical passages and the ironic interrogatories directed to God are all brought forth with humorous gusto and warmth.
But Tevye's wisdom and decency also comethrough in scene after scene and the composite character Reynolds achieves is strong enough to animate the play most admirably. His accent and vocal inflections come mostly by way of Topol, the Israeli actor who brought Tevye to the screen, but Reynold's on-stage approach isfresh and very much his own.
The only genuine distraction is his occasional tendency to reduce the word "tradition" to an Italian-sounding contraction which, needless to say, doesn't go with the suit. ("Tradeesh," as in rhymes with "capeesh.")
Otherwise, he's very, very good.
Strong ensemble has been a hallmark of Annapolis Dinner Theater productions and, with a few notable exceptions, the trend continues in "Fiddler."
Celia Rocca makes a fine Golde, as she takes the time to find some affectionate warmth in a character who can easilybe played for shrewish laughs alone.
The three elder daughters are all excellent as well. Julie Mays is particularly lovely as the willful Hodel, who breaks her father's heart by following Perchik, her revolutionary boyfriend, to Siberia after his arrest in the aborted uprising of 1905.
Kathryn Dixon does nicely as Tzeitel and Katy McAllister is fine as Chava, the daughter who does the unthinkable by marrying outside the faith.
Debbie Barber's Yenta is a gossipy, high-energy matchmaker fully worthy of her name and Jim Gallagher is particularly chilling as the Russian constable who should know better but arranges pogroms anyway.
Alas, there are weaknesses among the supporting players. The butcher, Lazar Wolf, seemed as idiomatically Jewish as a pastrami on white and had trouble making it through "L'Chaim," his song with Tevye.
The tailor, Motel Kamzoil, looked the part,but swallowed some lines Sunday and also had vocal problems in "Miracle of Miracles."
The revolutionary, Perchik, also seemed under-characterized. His imperiousness should be stressed more, so that it sets up changes of personality once he's bitten by the love bug.
Director Roland Chambers has fashioned a handsome production that moves well and uses ADT's limited space ingeniously.
The ensemble numbers play beautifully. The choreography -- especially the bottle dance -- is also effective.
But the musical soundtrack betrays a few lapses in taste, I think. "If I Were a Rich Man" flies by, while the "Sabbath Prayer" is taken at a lugubrious tempo. And a droning accordion in "Far From the Home I Love" detracts from Hodel's beautiful singing.
Also, there are too many people in this cast who don't know how to pronounce the names of the other characters.
Motel does NOT rhyme with bottle. Tzeitel begins with a "ts" sound as in tse-tse fly. Chava begins with a hard "ch," NOT an "H" as in "Hava Nagila." And it's Uncle Avram in America, by the way.
This may sound like nit-picking, but if Motel and Tzeitel are to wed, shouldn't they be able to pronounce each other's names?
Enough with the elocution lessons. There are a few sour notes, but this "Fiddler" certainly deserves to beseen and heard.