BRENTWOOD -- "Fiddler on the Roof" is often called a masterpiece of musical theater, and under the able hands of Broadway Under the Stars' top-notch cast, crew and director, one can see just how masterful this popular musical can be.
The three-hour play, which opened last weekend at Liberty High's Allan E. Jones Performing Arts Center, was all one would hope it would be: filled with dynamically performed songs, enjoyable choreography, believable characters, and some dynamic acting. And despite its somber storyline, there was plenty of humor and charming playfulness to boot in this production directed by the talented Steve Kinsella.
Set in 1905 in Czarist Russia on the eve of the revolution, the musical is based on Sholom Aleichem's stories about a poor milkman Tevye, his wife, Golde, and their five daughters and their struggles in an anti-semetic world where the old ways of life are rapidly going by the wayside. Deeply religious, Tevye clings to traditions, but his feisty daughters have other plans and gradually help him to see there are different paths that he can embrace or at least live with.
Though there are many intriguing characters in this 52-member cast, it is Tevye, played with aplomb by the multitalented Richard Howarter, who steals the show. Howarter, who just last year charmed us as Daddy Warbacks in the troupe's "Annie," commands the stage as the philosophical dairyman who must pull his own cart because his horse is lame, and who regularly stops to speak with God and ask him to give him a break as he wrestles with changing social mores and his daughters' desires to marry men their father has not chosen for them.
Neither heavy-handed nor shticky, Howater plays Tevye with a believable accent and in a manner that make theatergoers relate to him if not root for his success. Bad things keep happening to him, but somehow he keeps trudging along and manages to accept them. With humor he proclaims, if money is the world's curse, "May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover."
Howarter sets the pace of the show with his rousing rendition of "Tradition" early on, and continues his winning ways with the amusing "If I Were A Rich Man" and touching "Sunrise, Sunset," and "Little Bird, Little Chavelah," the latter of which is performed with the three young daughters gracefully dancing in the softly lighted backdrop.
By his side is his sharp-tongued wife of 25 years, Golde, who only wants her daughters to marry rich men and live comfortable lives. ("A poor girl without a dowry can't be so particular. You want hair, marry a monkey.") Helen Dixon is well-cast in this important role and seems a natural match as Teyve's strong-willed wife. Her timing is right on and she and Howarter shine in several songs, including the touching "Do you Love me?"
The three oldest daughters, meanwhile, provide much of the friction in the story as they force their father to re-examine his traditions. All three -- Mikayla Furey (Tzeitel), Andrea Maciel (Hodel) and Robin Furseth (Chava) -- are up for the task, offering fine vocals and exhibiting solid acting skills.
The men in their lives are equally good: Josh Gates as the radical student Perchik, who wins Tevye's respect and falls in love with his daughter, Hodel; Kevin Coren as the dirt-poor tailor Motel Kamzoil in love with Tzeitel; and Justin Everhart as Fyedka, the outsider who marries Chava.
The matchmaker adds a dollop of humor to the goings-on. Cathy Ashland is a hoot as the busybody widow who lives to find "matches" for the village girls and it doesn't even matter if they don't really make a good match.
Jack Gaughan (also the show's producer) adds to the humor as Anatevka's elderly spiritual leader who has little to say though everyone asks his opinion.
Also worthy of mention are the talented Richard Asadoorian as Lazar Wolf, the butcher whom the Yente has matched with Tevye's oldest daughter, and David Gard as the fiddler, who begins the play fiddling of the roof and pops up in later scenes, a metaphor for survival in the shaky world in which they live.
All of this takes place against the backdrop of a well-designed set with fabulous period costumes (Robin Blount, costume coordinator), a fine live orchestra (Daniel Montgomery, conductor; Rose Marie Forment, music director) and entertaining dancing (Kathryn Lopez, choreographer).
With so much to love, the local troupe has definitely done this beloved classic proud and deserves the support of area theater patrons -- in droves.
Reach Judith Prieve at 925-779-7178. Follow her at Twitter.com/jprieve.
What: 'Fiddler on the Roof'
When: 7:30 p.m. July 26, 27, Aug. 2, 3; 2 p.m. July 28 and Aug. 4
Where: Allan E. Jones Performing Arts Center, 805 Second Street, Brentwood
Info: Online at thebrentwoodtheater.org or at The Gallery on Second in Downtown Brentwood, 741 Second St. or call 925-516-2741.
Cost: $16 students (13-17); $24 general; $22 seniors; $8 children (6-12)