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The Holmes Agency
Director Brian Shepard, who wore many hats in this production, did a fine job along with Peter Miller, Doug Van Gorder, Tony St. Denis and Tonya Bell in creating the little Russian village of Anatevka, with a warm, earthy palette and a town square that seemed to invite visitors to stay for a while.
Shepard assembled a fine cast of kids and grownups to populate the town; folks who went about their daily business as shopkeepers, tavern owners, rabbis, farmers and young people falling in love, unaware that their simple tradition-bound way of life and their beloved village were about to change forever.
Fighting this change tooth-and-nail was poor dairy farmer Tevye (Stephen Berger), a goodhearted man with a close personal relationship with God. When troubled, and this is often, Tevye has conversations with God, trying to understand his plan and wondering why making a man, such as himself, a little wealthier couldn’t be a part of that big picture.
Mr. Berger handled the singing with a fine expressive voice, but he did not bring all the robust energy that one expects from Tevye. In his song “If I Were a Rich Man,” which usually is accompanied by much cavorting and gesturing, Mr. Berger stood solidly on his little patch of ground rather than using the full stage and his full body to kvetch about the current state of affairs and imagine the good life he and his family could have if God would just take a few moments from his busy schedule to send some good fortune his way.
Still, what he lacked in bombast, Mr. Berger made up for with a sort of wry Weltschmerz which, once you got used to it, turned out to be quite funny. In his quieter, more contemplative songs such as “Do You Love Me?” and “Chavaleh,” he was very sweet and touching.
Terri-Ann Anderson, stepping into her first major role here as Tevye’s long-suffering wife Golde, made a fine scold with a shrill voice that threatened to peel the paint off the set; but she softened her tone nicely in her duet with Tevye.
The bevy of girls playing Tevye and Golde’s five daughters, Tzeitel (Kylee Rucinski), Hodel (Tatiana Curtis), Chava (Isabelle Simbari), Shprintze (Emily Homer) and Bielke (Margaret Mae Reilich Godino), all did a fine job, with Ms. Simbari and Ms. Curtis especially impressive with their fine tuneful voices. Ms. Rucinski was especially convincing as the love-struck Tzeitel, the object of whose affection, Motel the shy tailor, just happened to be her real-life husband Garrett Rucinski.
The trio of daughters – Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava – singing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” was a delight.
And speaking of delights, Molly Damon as the busybody matchmaker Yente did a terrific job treading the fine line between annoying and endearing.
Laurie Schreiber as grandma Tzeitel helped deliver a real showstopper in the song “Tevye’s Dream.” Ms. Schreiber was a hoot as the dead grandma of Tevye’s imaginings, playing the part so much like a nightmare marionette one could almost hear her jaws clacking as she warned against the impending marriage between her namesake and the butcher Lazar Wolf (pugnaciously played by Tom Lange).
Danielle Shepard as the ghost of Lazar Wolf’s dead wife Fruma-Sarah delivered (in 10-foot-tall spades) the shrieking payoff of that terrific setup.
Among the men in the older daughters’ lives, Mr. Rucinski took the prize for sheer adorableness, leaving no question why Tzeitel is so smitten. Josh Howie as Hodel’s fella, Perchik, melted a few hearts as well with his fine strong tenor in “Now I Have Everything.”
Special mention also must be made to the title character of this show, the fiddler, tunefully played by Emma Walsh whose strong and confident violin, along with Ralph Goodenough’s excellent piano, formed the backbone of a fine instrumental ensemble.
The very best part of the show was when all the voices and instruments came to together with the big chorus singing such songs as “Tradition,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “To Life.” The chorus delivered a truly poignant moment with a heart-rending hymn to their town in “Anatevka.”
The costuming by Stephanie Urquhart, Terri Lanpher and Jillian Sanner was spot-on, continuing those warm and earthy tones from the set; and if the facial hair on the men wasn’t all real, it sure could have been.
One big disappointment in the production was an almost total lack of dancing. With such a fine dance program at the high school, it seems a pity they couldn’t find someone to choreograph something besides the one line dance they attempted. The supposedly “scandalous” modern dance between Hodel and Perchik looked about as naughty as a game of ring-around-the-rosie, and they didn’t even attempt the big bottle dance, which is always such a fun part of this show.
The other disappointment is that ACT is only putting this on for one weekend. It is certain that some timing issues would have tightened up and other glitchy things would have been ironed out by a second weekend, and it is certain that many would have loved to make another visit to Anatevka before the show, like that little shtetl in Russia, faded away into history.