Talented cast at 2nd Star produces a fine `Fiddler'

November 18, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A good "Fiddler on the Roof" is always a treat, and the folks at 2nd Star Productions have given us one.

Fine singing is at the core of this "Fiddler," which will run weekends at the Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park through Dec. 4.

Baritone Tom Zielinski was the first-class Figaro in the Annapolis Opera's "Marriage of Figaro" a couple of years ago. This time around, he cuts quite a swath through the role of Tevye the dairyman, the earthy, devout Ukrainian Jew forced to balance the competing demands of religious fundamentalism and modernity as the winds of social change begin blowing on the eve of Russia's Bolshevik Revolution.

Zielinski's singing is marvelous; grandly operatic and richly respectful of the Judaic ruffles and flourishes that make songs such as "If I Were a Rich Man," "Sabbath Prayer" and "Sunrise, Sunset" come alive with ethnic flair.

He never rushes his lines. Indeed, he sets the tone for the entire production, which unfolds at a leisurely pace but never overstays its welcome.

Zielinski is well-partnered by Sue Centurelli as his delightfully fussy wife, Golde.

Sarah Byrne, Julie Silvestro and Kristen Kushner are marvelous as the couple's three daughters. Silvestro delivers all the haunting beauty you could want in "Far From the Home I Love," the lament sung as the second daughter leaves home to follow her fiance to Siberia, where his political radicalism has landed him.

Kushner also is excellent as the apostate daughter whose marriage outside the faith pushes the good-natured Tevye past his breaking point.

Their men are also excellent, especially Neil Puzon and Tom Jackson, who sing beautifully as Perchik the revolutionary and Motel the tailor. Kudos also to Deborah Newman, who is wonderfully funny as Yente the matchmaker.

But despite all the fine performances, I left the theater a little frustrated, for this would have been a remarkably fine production had the leaders taken greater care. They had the talent on stage.

Faces in the ensemble were woefully unexpressive. In the opening "Tradition," everyone looked mad. I saw no glow in anyone's eyes during the "Sabbath Prayer," and "L'chayim" (To Life!), an explosion of joy if ever there was one, inspired nary a smile from the chorus.

Names of characters were mispronounced throughout the play. Motel does not rhyme with bottle. The name of Tevye's eldest, Tzeitel, begins with a "ts" sound as in tse-tse fly. Anglicans say "Ah-men." Russian Jews of a century ago would have said "Oh-meyn!"

Costumes are laughably inappropriate, with little girls wearing flowery frocks better suited to the arrival of the Wells Fargo wagon in "Music Man" than a turn-of-the-century European "shtetl."

And finally, old-time rabbis didn't hang out in bars and flash their jewelry as they cavorted.

A gorgeously sung "Fiddler" with fine leads, in short, but it was as Judaically correct as a pastrami on white with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.

In the theater, as in life, excellence resides in the details.

For ticket information, call 410-757-5700 or 410-798-7001.

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