Welcome to Anatevka! Lakewood Playhouse audiences become part of the small village of Russian Jews with the current production of the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” This is the story of Tevye, a poor milkman with a wife, five daughters and a friendly relationship with his God.
It’s a short time before the 1903 Pogrom, the Czar-lead mission to rid Mother Russia of its Jewish population. Tevye learns that the traditional life he lead in the Nineteenth Century will not make it in the Twentieth, where young people defy bad laws and dare to pledge their love to each other.
The play, written by J. Stein, S. Harnick and J. Bock is a much loved theatrical standard. It boasts memorable music, sing-able songs and a cast of more than 30 perfectly costumed by Lauren Walker and her staff of stitchers.
Set Designer Erin Chanfrau has created Anatevka in the Playhouse, using the advantage a “black-box” theatre; her set makes its four walls the homes in the village.
The five-piece orchestra, conducted by Chris McAvoy, is above the stage, in the loft. The wonderful thing about this placement is that, while the audience can hear every note of music, the lyrics, directed by Larry Trop, are never overshadowed.
There is no such thing as a bad seat in this theatre-in-the-round production. Director Marcus Walker manipulates his actors around the stage and into the audience so gracefully that the audience forgets that it is not part of the cast, and, in fact, finds it very hard not to start singing.
With so a large cast, it is not possible to mention everyone. Although all do admirable jobs with acting, singing and dancing, some lesser characters must be singled out. Among them are Christel Gillespie as Grandma Tzeitel, Richard Frias as Mordcha, H. Freeman Seebo as Rabbi Benedel, Spencer Jerome as his son Mendel and Kayla Williams as Shprintze and Katie Pereira as Bielke, Tevye’s two youngest daughters.
Kudos to Debbie Birkey as the matchmaker, Yente and Carol Richmond as Tevye’s wife Golde.
Special kudos to Michael Dresdner as Lazar Wolf the scorned butcher who seeks a marriage contract with Tevye’s eldest daughter and Valerie Kirkwood as Fruma-Sarah, the ghost of Lazar Wolf’s first wife.
One of the best scenes in the production is the dream sequence when Kirkwood “scares” Tevye into reneging on Lazar Wolf’s marriage contract.
Tevye’s older daughters are Renee Roberts as Tzeitel, Keri Costello as Hodel and Olivia Seward as Chava. Each act and sing equally well.
All three girls show their dancing prowess to Katie Felesina’s choreography, as does Joe Kelly as Fyedka, Hodel’s Russian beau. Kelly is perhaps the best male dancer.
Samuel Rudolph is Motel the tailor, Tzeitel’s chosen husband and Jerod Nace is Hodel’s rebellious love, Perchik. Nace’s voice is outstanding among the men as is Costello’s among the women.
Michael Slease is Tevye.
Slease returns to theatre after a 10-year hiatus to give a tour de force performance. He shows all the love, humor and anguish of a father and all the humor, love and consternation of a man devoted to God. His voice is perfect for the role. The audience sings with him and cries with him in their hearts.
Be forewarned: this is a long play. The first act is an hour and forty minutes, the second almost an hour; there is one 15-minute intermission. Take a nap, have a hearty meal and grab a bottle of water from the snack bar. Settle yourself into your special place in Anatevka.
“Fiddler on the Roof” continues throughout the month of April every Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees (except for Easter Sunday) at 2 p.m. There is a special Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday evening, April 6.
The Lakewood Playhouse is located in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit terminal.
For reservations or more information, call the theatre at (253) 588-0042.
Come for the music, come for the excellent staging; most of all, come for Michael Slease’s Tevye. It is a performance for which, he most certainly has earned “his seat on the Eastern Wall.”
By Lynn Geyer