An impressive production of Fiddler on the Roof is the current offering at Toby's Dinner Theatre. The story, like much of the show's music, is in a minor key.
In 1905, in a Russian village, lives a Jewish dairyman named Tevye who endures poverty with dogged persistence and a wry sense of humor. He has five daughters and hopes to find suitable husbands for the older ones, but the daughters have their own ideas about who is suitable. In the background, threatening them and everyone else in the village, is the official anti-Semitism of the czarist government.
In the song "Traditions," Tevye declares that what sustains the villagers, giving them a sense of security and continuity, is their Orthodox Jewish faith, which lays down strict rules on every aspect of life from food and clothing to relations between the sexes.
Prompted by the local matchmaker, Tevye and his wife, Golde, choose a prosperous middle-aged butcher as a mate for their eldest daughter, Tzeitel. But she is in love with Motel, a poor young tailor. In time, the second daughter, Hodel, falls for the village radical, Perchik. Then, most shocking of all, the third daughter, Chava, wants to marry Fyedka, a Gentile.
A certain sameness runs through the show as things happen over and over: A daughter wants to marry an unsuitable man, Tevye expresses hostility to the idea, the girl pleads or argues, Tevye agonizes over his duty to tradition but finds himself melting because of his love for the daughter. Finally, he gives his permission.
An exception comes the third time. The idea of Chava marrying a Gentile proves too much for Tevye's faith, and he renounces her.
Tragedy strikes when the wedding celebration of the first couple, Tzeitel and Motel the tailor, is interrupted by a pogrom.
The village is overrun and sacked by outsiders. Worse comes at the end of the show, but the villagers respond to oppression with courage and hope.
The score, ranging from melancholy to lively, includes such familiar numbers as "If I Were a Rich Man," "Sunrise, Sunset," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker."
8 years on Broadway
With a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock, Fiddler premiered on Broadway in 1964 and ran almost eight years. It is based on the writings of Sholem Rabinovich (1859-1916), who adopted the pen name Sholem Aleichem, a Hebrew greeting meaning "peace be upon you."
Rabinovich wrote five novels, more than 300 short stories and many plays, all in Yiddish and most about life in the shtetls of old Russia.
David Bosley-Reynolds brings his formidable acting talent, imposing presence and fine singing voice to the role of Tevye.
Tevye's wife, Golde, is a cold, brusque, bossy woman with a sarcastic tongue. In Chan McQuay's fine performance, these unpleasant characteristics can't hide Golde's great virtue: selfless devotion to her family's welfare.
As the young people, Tina DeSimone (Tzeitel), Debra Buonaccorsi (Hodel), Chava (Risa Binder), David James (Motel), Russell Sunday (Perchik) and E. Lee Nicol (Fyedka) perform with charm and conviction.
Lynne R. Sigler gives an emphatic performance as Yente the matchmaker, Itzy Friedman a subdued one as the rabbi. Andrew Horn makes the rejected butcher, Lazar Wolf, sympathetic and likable.
Special praise goes to the choreographers, Terry Sweeney and Tina DeSimone. Their dances grow organically out of the plot situations and make effective use of the relatively small playing area. Particularly lively and imaginative is a surrealistic ballet in which Tevye, trying to reconcile Golde to his decision to let Tzeitel marry her tailor, describes a wild (and fictitious) dream.
Judy Holland-Geary's costumes are appropriately shabby and appear accurate to the place and time. David Eske and Jessica Sherlock provide a convincing decor of dismal wooden shacks facing a forest of birch trees.
Fiddler on the Roof tells a serious story with warmth, humor and enjoyable music.
Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, presents Fiddler on the Roof through June 15. Doors open at 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 5 p.m. Sunday. For matinees, doors open at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and Wednesday. Reservations are required. Information or reservations: 410-730- 8311 or 800-888-6297.