Forestburgh and “Fiddler”- a perfect match!

JONATHAN CHARLES FOX
Posted 8/8/18

Truth be told, I did not want to go see “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Forestburgh Playhouse last week. I mean, let’s face it- the internationally acclaimed musical, written by the …

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Forestburgh and “Fiddler”- a perfect match!

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Truth be told, I did not want to go see “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Forestburgh Playhouse last week. I mean, let’s face it- the internationally acclaimed musical, written by the incomparable team of Joseph Stein, (book) Jerry Bock, (lyrics) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) has been done. The original Broadway production earned nine Tony Awards, including *Best Musical, and the incomparable Jerome Robbins won for his memorable direction and choreography. Why then, would I need to see it again? Two words- Joel Briel. As Tevye, the dairyman, Briel has taken the character, based on stories created by Sholem Aleichem, and made it his own. Sure, Zero Mostel (the original Tevye) was amazing, Even Herschel Bernardi gave it his all. No need to discuss Topol (the film) or his one-dimensional turn as Tevye, but Joel Briel? From the moment he took the stage and the first notes of “Tradition” were heard, I was hooked.

There is something very special about this production, in this theatre, with this cast, that causes the cream to rise to the top in Tevye’s ever-present milk can. Director Mark Hardy seems to have thoughtfully tapped into the mind of Aleichem himself and instead of the usual cartoon characters, he has created a village full of real-life three-dimensional people that breathe with new life every night on stage. Briels’ Tevye is instantly expressed eloquently with every shrug, every gesture and every single note that he sings so beautifully that I was unsure how the rest of the cast would stack up. The role of Golde, his wife, is often interpreted as shrill, off key and shrewish, but under Hardy’s direction (and with acting chops to boot)  Gina Lamparella brings warmth and tenderness to the role in a way I had never witnessed.

Their marriage-aged daughters, Brigitte Francis, (Hodel) Amanda Childs, (Chava) and Tia Karaplis, (Tzeitel) have angelic voices and their three-part-harmonic plea (Matchmaker, Matchmaker) to Yente (the wonderful Terry Palasz) sets the stage for heart strings being tugged as the story unfolds in two glorious acts on Tim Golebiewski’s stunning set, evocatively lit by designer Ethan Newman. “Fiddler” is a musical in the truest sense of the word. The songs are incredibly well crafted, the harmonies rich, and the lush score requires a strong chorus replete with well trained voices. Thankfully, this production has it all. Nicholas Place has given the resident company an opportunity to shine repeatedly with  fantastic songs like “Sabbath Prayer,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and the show-stopping “Dream” sequence (featuring fabulous cameos by Julia Hemp and Grace Ann Kontak) that quite simply, delivers in a way hitherto unseen, enhanced by Ashleigh Poteat’s clever, unique costuming and Trevor Illingworth’s choreography.

The suitors, Zach Landes, (Motel) Daniel Hayward, (Perchik) and Eric Graupensperger (Fyedka) are perfectly matched and once again, the brilliant score shines through, thanks to the considerable talents, and glorious voices, of all three. Even the role of butcher Lazar Wolf is different under Hardy’s guidance and I was moved (for the first time) by character actor Sam Zeller’s interpretation of the spurned ogre. Happily, conductor Place has entrusted the score to capable musicians and as a result, I heard no wrong notes emanate from the pit. Andy Hudson, (keyboard) Matt Kopec, (percussion) Stacy Joergle, (bass) and Arielle Chin (the first female fiddler I’ve ever seen!) did a great job bringing this moving tale “To Life!”

Is there a sour note? Maybe, and it’s a pet peeve that I refuse to back down from, even amidst this glorious production. The beards on some of the guys look downright ridiculous and the goofy look spoiled the illusion that these are grown men of Jewish heritage. Unlike the Honest-to-God facial hair (thank you!) on Briel, Landes, and Zeller, some of the citizens of Anatevka looked just plain silly. These are supposed to be real people, right? Of course right!

“Fiddler on the Roof” is at The Forestburgh Playhouse through August 12th and tickets can be purchased online at www.fbplayhouse.org or at the box office. Call 845-794-2005 to secure your seats for the hottest show in town. This production really is a “miracle of miracles.” As Yente would say: You can thank me later!

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