Cleveland-area actors George Roth and Tracee Patterson make an absolutely perfect couple in Porthouse Theatre’s captivating production of the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s a tour de force for Roth, who brilliantly creates the heartwarming Tevye, patriarch of a family of Jewish peasants. Roth brings finely tuned humor, beautiful singing and a huge heart to the role of the milkman who attempts to cling to tradition as his three marriageable daughters challenge the old ways in a time of great change in czarist Russia.
At his side is Patterson as sarcastic wife Golde, who imbues her character with a severity that’s never outright shrewish. Both Tevye and Golde have been beaten down by life but Tevye is actually a pussycat who retains his optimism. Patterson, in her Porthouse debut, creates depth in Golde by showing her world also has room for warmth and joy.
Equity actors Roth and Patterson’s finest moment together is in the ultimately tender tune Do You Love Me?, where a final smile and little snuggle from Patterson is all that’s needed to answer Tevye’s question.
In this 1905 story set in the shtetl Anatevka, Tevye’s three daughters dare to defy the old Jewish ways by marrying for love. Actresses Danielle Dorfman, Jessica Benson and Madeleine Drees bring beautiful innocence to their roles as Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava, but Dorfman’s imitation of Yente has a shrieky edge to it in Matchmaker.
Brady Miller is adorably timid as Tzeitel’s suitor, the tailor Motel; Jake Wood is passionate and hunky as radical student Perchik, Hodel’s love; and Sam Rohloff features beautifully operatic vocals as Russian Christian Fyedka, Chava’s love interest.
Lissy Gulick is full of humor and personality as matchmaker Yente, and Mark Seven does a delightful comical turn as the doddering rabbi.
Shining direction by Eric van Baars makes this production a joy, to the hilarious nightmare enactment in The Dream to the tear-inducing heartbreak in Chava Sequence, in which Tevye denounces his own daughter.
The Dream is the funniest I’ve ever seen it, with a full ensemble of spooky spirits dancing and even a wacky cymbal-playing ghost. They back up the hilarious Brianna DeRosa as the midget-sized Grandma Tzeitel, who flies around the stage with the help of a small dolly hidden by a full skirt. Tee Boyich also is a terrifyingly funny sight as the giant Fruma-Sarah, made double the size with the help of two men under her huge skirts who carry her.
The 1964 musical, which won nine Tony Awards, has a rich score performed by an excellent Porthouse orchestra of 11, whose most exciting tune is the celebratory To Life.
John Crawford also adds to the delights of this show by re-creating Jerome Robbins’ original choreography, with the most thrilling moments coming with the bottle dance during The Wedding. Here, the men impressively balance bottles on their hats while doing a sliding move in unison on their knees.
The set by Nolan O’Dell is dominated by two small but impressively economical wooden structures that open like cupboards. These self-contained set pieces unfold with numerous props that create Tevye’s kitchen and also exterior scenes when turned around. The play’s backdrop, though, looks too modern to fit into the style of the 1905 setting, made to look like leaded glass with modern, swirled leading and changing colors.
This production of Fiddler on the Roof doesn’t shy away from the ugly realities of the Russian pogroms, brought to life by Greg Violand as the menacingly hypocritical constable with his four sidekicks. Yet this show is so full of heart, pathos and humor, seeing Fiddler is a richly satisfying experience.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.