2010-05-20 / Dining & Entertainment

Oak Park’s ‘Fiddler’ proves exemplary

Play review
By Cary Ginell Soundthink@aol.com

TO LIFE!—Senior Jared Brown is the fiddler in Oak Park High School’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” TO LIFE!—Senior Jared Brown is the fiddler in Oak Park High School’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Oak Park High School presented its final production of the school year last weekend with the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” the award-winning classic based on stories by Sholom Aleichem.

As director Allan Hunt explained to the audience, the production was a “black box” show, which means that only minimal props and sets were used. The singing, acting and dancing were the real stars of the show.

The triumvirate of Hunt, music director Heidi Cissell and choreographer Tracy Wilson worked efficiently with the large student cast in an entertaining production. As always, the school utilized two alternating casts.

The exemplary cast was led by Kevin Kalbfeld as Tevye, a poor milkman in the Russian village of Anatevka in 1905. Tevye spends much of his time in a one-way conversation with God, in essence making his role a sort of stand-up comedy routine. As with all comic material, timing is key, and Kalbfeld has Tevye’s schtick down pat. It’s obvious he studied the 1971 film version starring Topol, as his facial mannerisms and gestures were expertly done.

Tevye is more afraid of his wife (the excellent Laura Miller) than God, and the pair’s best moments come in their scenes together—the exceptionally funny “Tevye’s Dream” and the moving duet “Do You Love Me?”.

Playing Tevye’s daughters are Stephanie Soultanian (Tzeitel), Jonalyn Saxer (Hodel) and Alexandra Corley (Chava). The three are delightful in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” and Saxer is wonderful in the touching “Far From the Home I Love.” The two youngest daughters are played by Julia Rale and Delaney Pryor, who portrayed the youngest Von Trapp children in OPHS’s “The Sound of Music” in March.

Tzeitel’s suitors are the gruff, coarse Lazar Wolf (played by Charlie Volk, hidden behind a beehive of a false beard) and the nebbish tailor Motel (Peter Carmen), who grows a spine and stands up to Tevye in demanding Tzeitel’s hand in marriage. Both handle their roles quite well: Volk providing the spirit for the dance sequence in “To Life” and Carmen joyously singing “Miracle of Miracles.”

Also excellent are Jack Thedinga as the young, idealist Marxist, Perchik, who captures Hodel’s heart and inspires her to join him in Siberia in his plans of revolution, and the white Russian soldier Fyedka (Chava’s love interest), played by Erik Lindenau.

In smaller, but no less standout roles are Sarah Edelsohn, delightful as Grandma Tzeitel; Marin Robinson as the 9-foot-high, frizzy-haired ghost of Frumah Sarah, and especially Tiffany Katz, whose portrayal of the annoying matchmaker Yente would make Molly Picon smile. Of course? Of course.

The most moving scene in “Fiddler” is always “The Sabbath Prayer,” with its beauty and simplicity as the townsfolk sing from their respective dining rooms, candles lit, in the reverent weekly Jewish ritual of Shabbat. This scene was staged especially well.

In most productions of “Fiddler,” pre-recorded violin solos are used for the musician that follows Tevye around during the show. Oak Park was fortunate to have the talents of senior Jared Brown, who played Jerry Bock’s exquisite violin melodies live on stage during the show.

The choreography in “Fiddler” is always a challenge because of the large cast, but Tracy Wilson’s work came off without any obvious problems. The bottle dancers made it through the wedding reception scene without spilling a drop (actually, the bottles were weighted down with sand) and deserved the rousing ovation they got.

The absence of backdrops plus the bare bones sets and rudimentary costumes didn’t harm the production at all. The residents of Anatevka probably didn’t have much more than that anyway.

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