Friday, July 23, 2010

“Fiddler on the Roof” among best of all time

Published in The News Tribune, July 23, 2010

Above: Dessa Harvey, the fiddler
Bottom, from left: Darren Skousen as Lazar Wolf and Mark Banton as Tevye. Photos courtesy ASTRA

All Saints Theatrical Repertoire Association’s dinner theater happens only once a year, but it is a lavish occasion with a catered dinner, a 15-piece orchestra, a performance featuring a huge cast, and sets to rival larger professional theaters – and all of this takes place in the gymnasium of a Catholic school.

This year’s show is “Fiddler on the Roof” directed and choreographed by Kelsey Kovacevich, with sets by Nancy Morris and the orchestra conducted by Mike Lewis.

Written by the great Jerome Robbins and premiering on Broadway in 1964 to run for more than 3,000 performances, “Fiddler” became the longest-running play in Broadway history (finally topped by “Grease”).

ASTRA’s production stars Mark Banton as Tevye, the autocratic, tradition-bound, but loving and lovable father of five daughters. Banton is outstanding in many ways, beginning with his huge physical presence, towering over everyone else on stage. The role of Tevye is demanding not only because he is at the center of almost every scene, but because the actor must excel in both comedic and dramatic ability as well as singing and dancing. Banton certainly excels as a singer, with a strong but mellow voice, and although not as energetic or athletic as some of the younger ensemble dancers, he holds his own in the dance scenes. Dramatically he is outstanding, especially when expressing anger and when showing his love for his wife and daughters. His tenderness is palpable. He is not as strong in the comedic parts (except for his expressions while singing the wonderfully funny “If I Were a Rich Man”). His monologues addressed to God could be more animated both in voice and gesture.

Tevye’s wife, Golde (Kaarin Vail) and his three oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Christen Cortez), Hodel (Melissa Urquhart) and Chava (Dani Van Slyke) are all wonderful singers. The daughters, including the younger, Schprintze (Rachel Beritich) and Bielke (Maggie Barry), really stand out on “Matchmaker.” Urquhart provides one of the most touching musical moments in the play with the sad song of parting, “Far From the Home I love,” which she sings in duet with Banton.

The supremely touching “Do You Love Me” is a lovely duet by Banton and Vail.

Michael West is convincing and very likable as Motel the poor tailor who is in love with Tzeitel. His movement and expressions are great, but his voice could be a little stronger. Also providing outstanding performances are Charlie Ward as Perchik the revolutionary teacher, Darren Skousen as Lazar Wolf and Liz Tomski as Grandma Tzeitel. Disappointing is Tricia Soriano as Yente the Matchmaker who over acts and cackles like the Wicked Witch of the West. If she could tone it down just a little Yente would be much more enjoyable.

The large ensemble numbers and particularly Kovacevich’s choreography are wonderful. 

Morris’s sets and the lighting designed by Greg Scott and directed by Danny Nelson are great. Nowhere else does the mastery of sets, lighting and choreography come together so perfectly as in the dream sequence with a flying Grandma Tzeitel. That is a stunning scene.

“Fiddler on the Roof” ranks right up there with “West Side Story,” “Cabaret” and “Les Misérables” as among the best musicals of all time. It is a musical that everyone should see at least once if not many times. When combined with a nicely catered meal, you can’t go wrong. Including meal time it is a four-hour evening.

Finally, kudos to the fiddler on the roof, Dessa Harvey.

WHEN: 7:15 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, doors open at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:15 p.m., show at 7:15 p.m., through July 30; matinee only (no dinner) Sunday, July 25
WHERE: The All Saints Parish Center Stage, 506 3rd. St. S.W., Puyallup
TICKETS: $20-$50
INFORMATION: 253.579.6192,

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