Dutch Apple serves up classic experience with side of excellence

BY JUSTIN B. HOPKINS ’06
Faculty Member Contributing Writer

Another Fiddler is in town. Adapted by Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music), and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) from the short stories of Sholem Aleichem, chronicling the adventures of Reb Tevye the milkman in the little village of Anatevka, Fiddler on the Roof plays perennially on stages across the world, from high schools to community theaters to Broadway and beyond. Anyone who has attended even an average performance understands why. The current local production, beginning its national tour at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre here in Lancaster, comfortably surpasses the average.  

A couple of all couples leads this lively revival. Having recently celebrated their actual silver anniversary, spouses Jimmy Ferraro and Dee Etta Row bicker and banter delightfully as Tevye and Golde, alternately shrieking at and ignoring each other. But best of all is their duet “Do You Love Me?”—how touching for them to be able to sing “After twenty-five years, it’s nice to know,” to each other after a quarter century of real-life marriage. Joining hands at the end of the duet, they highlight what I assume are their own genuine wedding rings.

Another husband and wife team helms the production as a whole. Dean Sobon directs the show briskly but with careful attention to detail—notice the discrete, but distinct background business in any of the ensemble scenes—while Lauren Loercher-Sobon reproduces Jerome Robbins’ classic choreography of such unforgettable numbers as the “Bottle Dance” and “Tradition.”

One of the things I like about the movement, and about this musical in general, is how closely the aesthetic content connects with the themes. In one rousing sequence, for example, the Jewish and Russian peasantry dance together at the village inn to celebrate the betrothal of Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tzeitl (Colleen Johnson). The combination of the two movement styles—the latter ducking with their low kicks under the former’s revolving, raised arms—is an impressive display of folk dance, but more than that, it’s a poignant portrait of the coming-together of conflicting cultures.  

The brief blending reverts to a collision course all too soon, the crash coming tragically at the wedding itself, in another of the hallmarks of what is, after all, a bittersweet journey. This is not a syrupy romance, but a story of genuine family life, with all the attendant love and loss. In a scene of exquisite sadness, Tevye takes his second daughter, Hodel (Elizabeth McMonagle), to the train station, where they must say goodbye, they (rightly) fear, forever. Hodel holds her father close, but not so tightly that she cannot let go and stand, singing simply but with hope of her future with the revolutionary Perchik (Patrick Heffernan), “Far From the Home I Love.” Tevye’s voice thickens with disbelief, but he too lets go when the time comes, turning abruptly and walking quickly away. I sense it would be too painful for him to stay any longer. It’s almost too painful to watch any longer—a piercingly sorrowful parting.  

But for each heart-wrenching tear, there is a hearty laugh, many coming from Ferraro. As his bio boasts (good-naturedly and accurately), he’s played Tevye many times, and in addition to his obvious technical mastery of the role, he also somehow manages to keep the part fresh. I find it hard even to fault his moments of comic self-indulgence, as when he emerges into the bright morning sunlight, clutching his head and groaning in exaggerated agony at his exertions the night before. Hammy, yes, but it’s honestly hilarious.  

Ferraro also shares many moments of more moving self-reflection with Danny Boman’s titular Fiddler. Lighting designer Russell A. Thompson (who also creates a beautiful evening sky to accompany the wedding song, “Sunrise, Sunset”) uses violet spotlights to periodically isolate the two men from the rest of reality while Tevye thinks through his problems, accompanied by Boman’s fine fiddling and aided by the musician’s exceptional physicality and facial expressions.

When Tevye tries to reconcile himself to the marriage of his third daughter, Chava (Allison Fund), the gentle Russian Fyedka (Cameron Edris), a gentile, Boman stamps and grimaces, and Tevye shakes his head, realizing that “for us, some things do not change.”

For Fiddler on the Roof, many things don’t change, and I’m thankful for that. This is a show full of likeable and believable characters, well assembled and well performed here by an enthusiastic cast, from Greg Pragel’s nervous tailor Motel to Donnalynn Walker’s maudlin matchmaker Yente to Justin Droegmueller’s conflicted Constable. And as far as the first half of the Dinner Theatre experience goes, I’m no food critic, but Dutch Apple offers a spread that satisfied me. As Tevye says, “We don’t eat like kings, but we don’t starve either.” The Jewish Noodle Kugel, a tasty blend of savory and sweet in a pasta-pudding casserole, pays especially pleasant tribute to the material on stage. All in all, whether it’s a first-time or a return visit, I encourage you to take a trip to Anatevka soon.

Questions? Email Justin at jhopkins@fandm.edu.

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