Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Fiddler on the Roof
Also see Susan's reviews of Tamburlaine
In its favor, Olney Theatre Center's year-end production of Fiddler on the Roof has a beautiful central performance by Rick Foucheux, the familiar songs by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), and the eternally involving story of the clash between tradition and new ideas in a Russian Jewish village in 1905. As for the differences between John Vreeke's direction and the Jerome Robbins staging used for most productions since the musical's premiere in 1964, here are two major examples: the Fiddler (Andrew Zox) pantomimes his playing without a real violin and Jon Savage's scenic design does not include any roofs. Even the influence of painter Marc Chagall's work that inspired the title is gone, replaced for one moment by a projection of Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night."
Vreeke appears to have taken the 2004 Broadway revival of Fiddler as his inspiration. Rather than any semblance of realistic scenery, Savage's set consists of a raised platform, with ramps down to the floor of the auditorium (actors enter through a tunnel under the platform) and into the wings, and a backdrop that resembles a wooden wall with cracks that let light through. The five musicians, costumed in the style of traditional klezmer musicians, sit on the stage throughout; musical director Christopher Youstra and sound designer Jarett C. Pisani deserve credit for giving this small ensemble a sound that fills the theater.
Foucheux, one of Washington's leading actors and two-time winner of the Helen Hayes Award, is making his musical debut with the monumental role of Tevye and his performance is dynamic, moving, and funny, not to mention melodic. As Golde, Sherri L. Edelen conveys the common sense, the exasperation and ultimately the love that holds the family together.
In general, the women in this cast give stronger performances than the men. Daughters Tzeitel (Patricia Hurley), Hodel (Jenna Sokolowski) and Chava (Margo Seibert) demonstrate great poise and empathy, but Tzeitel's shy suitor, Motel (Andrew Boza), conveys little beyond the character's meekness, and Perchik (Paul Downs Colaizzo), the youthful revolutionary, comes across as starchy and his speech is indistinct. Karlah Hamilton is an imperious Yente the matchmaker, and Harry A. Winter a rather refined Lazar Wolf the butcher. Also, Vreeke has attempted to integrate the Fiddler into the naturalistic scenes, which is out of keeping with the symbolic nature of his character.
The production has its visual flourishes, most strikingly in Howard Vincent Kurtz's nightmarish costumes for the dream scene, and the wedding canopy that hangs above the entire stage during the ceremony for Tzeitel and Motel. Gabrielle Orcha contributes joyful choreography throughout, especially the muscular male dancing during "To Life" and the crowd-pleasing bottle dance at the wedding.
Olney Theatre Center