'Fiddler' revival could use some fine tuning

July 09, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing Writer

Theatre On The Hill at Western Maryland College is presenting the musical classic, "Fiddler On The Roof," in Alumni Hall Theatre through July 18. The show is visually handsome to look at with its quaint village set and earthy costumes. The small orchestra under the direction of Alison E. Shafer has a good sound.

Reprising his role as Tevye for the third time is local performer, Ira Jay Gershman. Gershman garnered plaudits for his excellent, in-depth performance as the beleaguered Jewish father in the Dundalk Community Theatre's version of the musical in May of 1991.

But under the uninspired direction by Julie Herber-Dougherty (who also created the unoriginal choreography for Theatre On The Hill), Gershman and an uneven supporting cast plod at a slow pace through this important work.

The pace does pick up during the one delightful number, "The Dream," in which Susan Thornton and Victoria Fowler hilariously enact Tevye's comic nightmare.

The musical (book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock) which originally starred the late, great Zero Mostel, struck a universal note in audiences everywhere. Songs include "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset," "If I Were A Rich Man," and the joyous dance sequence "To Life."

Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, the action takes place in the Jewish village of Anatevka, Russia in 1905. The plot revolves around the efforts of Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman, his wife and five unwed daughters to cope with the harsh realities of their lives. Organized raids by the town's Russian constable and his band of rough soldiers are inflicted on the Jewish community at intervals.

Old Hebrew traditions die hard for the bewildered Tevye as he gallantly tries to accept the new order of the young who want no more of arranged marriages and other stifling restrictions.

The play calls for a large cast and director Dougherty has chosen to flesh out the male group scenes with women who sport phony beards on their chin (a practice sometimes used by high school drama departments but one ill suited to a so-called semi-professional production).

There are no outstanding voices in this version. Performances are unexciting and without strong interaction between actors.

But it is Gershman who is the real disappointment. His is a technically acceptable but unemotional, mechanical performance. Perhaps, the actor feels he has done the role so often that he does not have to work hard at it any more.

This is dangerous thinking. A major acting rule is that, no matter how many times an actor plays a part, he or she must play it as if it was for the first time. Each time the actor should discover something new in the characterization, not only for his own development as an artist, but for the benefit of the audience.

With a routine performance by Gershman and the others, all vital dramatic moments are lost. The usually moving "Far From the Home I Love" song is thinly sung by Kendra de'Chantel who never seems to get into her role as the bright daughter in love with a revolutionary student.

Jean Burgess as Tevye's long-suffering wife, Golde, has a nice ++ singing voice but she is too young for the part and offers only a surface interpretation of this weary woman.

As Yente, the matchmaker, Sandra L. Murphy, with her half spectacles, flat-footed walk and garbled Jewish accent, is a grotesque caricature of the role.

Ann Gigliotti is believable as the sweet daughter in love with Motel the tailor, but Paul Micsan as Motel lacks the painfully shy awkwardness of the man. As Perchik the student, Raymond Ficca does not have the fire and passion needed.

Bill Toscano as the forceful Russian constable seems to have a genuine grasp of his character and fairly convincing performances are given by Anne Sapienza and Matthew Bray as star-crossed lovers.

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