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Compass Rose points in new direction for production of engaging 'Fiddler'

The Baltimore Sun

Compass Rose founding artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne has made a timely choice in presenting the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof” to arrive with the Hanukkah season.

Equally interesting is her decision to end performances at the theater’s Spa Road venue — when the troupe has been for the past five years — on New Year’s Eve.

The troupe is set for a move in 2018, hoping to greet a bright future in the new year. The Compass Rose team must leave the theater they created in an old rug factory. Merry-Browne said she’s considering two possible locations for the rest of the “Fiddler” run through Jan. 21. A formal announcement is expected in the coming week.

In the meantime, she quotes the “Fiddler” character Golde: “Eh, it’s just a place.”

Indeed, having mounted this show “alley style,” with the audience seated on both sides of the stage, Merry-Browne says the production can be “easily lifted up with a spatula — like a pancake — and put down anywhere we have a floor surrounded by chairs.”

That level of optimism and “can do” attitude is a fitting match for “Fiddler on the Roof,” with its music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Winner of nine 1964 Tony Awards, including best musical, “Fiddler” was once the longest-running Broadway musical and has also become part of our cultural fabric, with “Sunrise, Sunset” having replaced “Here Comes the Bride” in many marriage ceremonies attended over the past 50 years.

This beloved musical about Tevye, the impoverished dairyman who clings to his traditions while struggling to support wife Golde and their five daughters, may have established new records for number of performances large and small, from professional productions to countless high and middle school performances.

Compass Rose’s production ranks near the top of those seen by this reviewer in its success in bringing intimacy to this large-scale musical. The family’s story is brought closer to audiences in sharing the trials and joys, laughter and tears.

Captivating with his irresistibly commanding stage presence, G. Michael Harris as Tevye delivers a strong opening “Tradition” to define his character and anchor him in this unique world. This piece is followed by “If I Were a Rich Man,” where Harris’ Tevye joyously circles the stage making eye contact everywhere to draw the audience into his warm circle. Harris is equally adept in conveying Tevye’s conflicted acceptance of his daughters’ independent decisions — choosing to marry whom they love, not whom parents dictate. Those decisions sometimes result in heartache.

Mindy Cassie is strong and pragmatic as Golde, providing a tender moment in her duet with Harris responding to Tevye’s question “Do You Love Me?” The number reflects on their 25 years of marriage during which the question never arose for either.

Most outstanding in a talented 14-member cast is Anna Deblasio as smart, independent Hodel, who initially questions the revolutionary ideas of live-in teacher Perchik, strongly played by Joe Mucciolo. As Perchik teaches Hodel how Kiev couples dance together, a tentative attraction grows stronger with each dance practice. Deblasio possesses the best voice in the cast, and provides a most memorable moment in her poignant “Far From the Home I Love” as she awaits the train that will carry her from a loving father and all she has ever known.

Stephanie Ichniowski fully captures first-born daughter Tzeitel, the first to break with traditional paternal choice of daughter’s mate in expressing her sorrow at the prospect of wedding butcher Lazar Wolf. Childhood friend and neighbor Motel, the tailor, joins Tzeitel in announcing their engagement before asking Tevye’s permission — a clear misstep in this culture. Reluctantly, Tevye agrees, launching a happy scene in which Motel, played by Piers Portfolio, sings a heartfelt “Miracle of Miracles” to his beloved Tzeitel.

Youngest daughter Chava is beautifully played by 14-year-old Marina Jansen. Chava is drawn to Russian soldier Fyedka, dynamically played by Logan Beveridge. That attraction produces another touching scene, with Tevye unable to accept this pairing. He sings “Chavaleh, Little Bird” as Jansen’s Chava expresses her anguish in poignant dance.

Providing color and comic moments are Joe Rossi as Lazar Wolf; Rebecca Dreyfuss as Yente; Tracy Haupt as both the Innkeeper and Fruma Sarah; Kienan McCartney portraying the aging rabbi and the Russian constable; and Severna Park High School sophomore Hannah Hall as both Shprintze and Mendel in her Compass Rose debut.

Music director Anita O’Connor adds freshness to this classic score while directing soloists and chorus singers to invest each song with sensitivity. Pianist Mike Jarjoura accompanies all performers and delivers momentous solos. Choreographer Andrew Gordon adds stunning vitality to every number tailoring each dance for maximum effect within limited space.

Merry-Browne rates kudos and mazel tov for capping five stellar theater seasons at 49 Spa Road with this production of “Fiddler.” The show continues through Jan. 21. For tickets and showtimes, call 410-980-6662 or go to compassrosetheater.org.

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