“Fiddler on the Roof” at the Huntington Beach Playhouse

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The popularity of “Fiddler on the Roof” is undeniable. When the Larry Bock-Sheldon Harnick show first lit up the Broadway stage in 1964, it became the first musical to run over 3,000 performances.

Nearly 50 years later, it’s still packing them in, as evidenced by the huge opening-night crowd at the Huntington Beach Playhouse where Larry Watts has directed, choreographed and designed the sets and costumes. His multitasking is reaping huge dividends.

The show revolves around Tevye, a dairyman and father of five daughters whose life has been ruled by Jewish tradition – and is about to undergo some shattering changes – in the tiny Russian village of Anatevka, circa 1905.

In the Huntington Beach production, Michael Castro enacts this central role with a profound sincerity and a twinkle in his eye as he pulls his horseless wagon and conducts his daily one-on-one chat with the Almighty. He’s a bit uneven in the early going, and again toward the end, but his overall interpretation is splendid as he pulls scriptural proverbs out of the air and attempts, vainly, to maintain his parental authority.

Megan Cherry is quite solid as his long-suffering wife, Golde, and the couple’s second-act duet, “Do You Love Me,” which examines their quarter-century-old arranged marriage, is charming. Cherry leaves little doubt as to who really wields the scepter of command in the household.

The eldest daughter, Tzietel, is particularly well portrayed by Carole Louise Duffis, who risks her father’s wrath as she opposes an arranged marriage to the much-older butcher and pleads the case of her true love, an impoverished tailor.  This part is well filled by Chase Evans, a tall, lanky actor who uses his physical stature to underscore his character’s required geekiness.

The strongest performer in the cast is Austin James Duffis (yes, Tzietel’s offstage husband), the revolutionary thinker who conducts a spirited intellectual pursuit of Tevye’s second-oldest daughter, Hodel (Melissa Smith). Smith’s poignant duet with Tevye, “Far From the Home I Love,” is among the show’s musical highlights (and particularly poignant to a father attending the show with his daughter).

While the first two daughters bent their father’s heart, the third, Chava (Tess Del Rio) finally breaks it when she falls for a non-Jewish Russian soldier (Fernando Becerra). Both render convincing portrayals in roles that have been written with the proverbial lick and a promise.

Another exceptionally strong performance comes from Jason Robert Hoskins as the imposing butcher, Lasar Wolf, whose loss of his promised bride unhinges him frighteningly and nearly wrecks Tzietel’s wedding (before the czar’s forces do). Dee Shanders mines some comic gold from the part of the nosy matchmaker Yente, here re-envisioned as something of a kleptomaniac.

The nightmarish dream sequence – in which Lazar’s late wife returns with a vengeance to oppose the arranged marriage – is appropriately wild and crazy with Margie Ikerd-Gyorgy raising havoc as the outraged (and elevated) Fruma-Sarah. Katie Roberts impresses as the spirit of Tzietel’s grandmother, while Wyman Gentry reflects restrained menace as the town constable.

Musical director Mike Walker has come up with a splendid recorded score which challenges the actors to keep in sync. The sets are, of necessity, quite fragmentary, as they must be wheeled on and off stage with dispatch. The backstage crew (and the actors) are quite efficient in this regard.

“Fiddler on the Roof” is nearing its 50th birthday with its popularity among local theater groups intact. The show receives a warm and spirited production at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.

THE ESSENTIALS:

WHAT: “Fiddler on the Roof”
WHO: Huntington Beach Playhouse
WHERE: Library Theater, 7171 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach
WHEN: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. through Dec. 1
COST: $18 – $20
CALL: (714) 375-0696

– tt –

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