Ponte Vedra’s Christ Episcopal Church opened a two-weekend run of the classic Fiddler on the Roof on Friday April 13. Three more performances remain on April 20 – 21.
Fiddler opened on Broadway in 1964 and there have been many performances in the North Florida area, although none in recent years. Fiddler is certainly one of the most popular musicals of all time and as tradition is the heart and message of the show, it has become a tradition to take children and grandchildren because of what it teaches us about yes, tradition, but also change, love, and faith.
Just a bit of the plot to refresh your memory. The story is set in 1905 in the small Ukrainian village of Anatevka. At the center of the story is a poor milkman, Teyve, with his wife Golde, and their five daughters. The play portrays the religious life of Russian Jews in a manner that is honest and real. A good portion of the show deals with the three oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Elle Gough), Hodel (Haley Cox), and Chava (Kaley Blevins) and how they defy marriage traditions by choosing their own husbands, rather than agreeing to marriages arranged by a matchmaker. The villagers also face political threats to their way of life that will eventually force them to leave Anatevka.
Many of the songs have become standards: “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “To Life,” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” are so familiar that you may notice many singing quietly along as the play progresses.
While the play does deal with serious subjects, it is also filled with humor. Teyve frequently reveals his sense of humor as he converses with God. Susan Roth adds more humor. Her conversation is directed more often to Teyve than to God, as she portrays Golde with a sharp wit that conceals her affection for her husband.
The dream scene, in Tevye and Golde’s bedroom, is one of the liveliest. The shrewd Tevye concocts a fake dream to change his wife’s mind about which suitor daughter Tzeitel should be allowed to marry. Grandma Tzitel (Dr. Pherbia Engdahl) and Fruma Sarah (Annette Page), both back from the dead, are hilarious. Ms. Page, who has done a number of character roles with ABET and Players by the Sea, performs in her first singing role.
In reading the well-produced program, we noticed a number of actors we have seen previously in community theatre productions. Ingrid McCawley is a very lively and animated Yenta, the matchmaker. Brian Healy, who plays Perchik, has appeared in leading roles at Players and Limelight Theatre. Robb Mitchell was the believable bearded butcher Lazar Wolfe, who wants to marry the much younger Tzeitel.
Thomas Nightingale, who appears as the timid and very poor Motel the tailor, has performed in a number of musicals and his experience showed in the song “Miracle of Miracles.” Jack Billingsley had an impressive appearance as the bearded Rabbi and we loved his line delivery with a slight Southern accent. Ponte Vedra High School sophomore Andy Pruitt played the very adult role of Fyedka, a radical activist who was in love with Chava.
One of the best voices in the show was in one of the smallest but most impressive roles as a Russian; Andy Haynes certainly impressed us in his short solo.
There are three specialized roles in the play. Nathan Blacka is the fiddler who opens and closes the show with his expertise on the violin. Christopher Lowstuter was the lead Russian dancer the first weekend; Kyle Caster will fulfill that role on the second weekend.
Well, if you have read this far, you are wondering who portrays the leading role, the pivotal part in Fiddler on the Roof. Christ Episcopal Church won the lottery when they were able to cast Walter Hook, a true professional, in the role of Tevye, thanks to the courtesy of Actors Equity Association. Mr. Hook has appeared in six Broadway shows, and is listed in “Who’s Who in the World of Opera.” He has appeared a number of times at Jacksonville’s Alhambra, in both musicals and comedies. If the Alhambra had a Hall of Fame for those who have performed there, Walter Hook, a real crowd favorite, would certainly be a prime candidate. Hook makes his home in Ponte Vedra and had always wanted to do this role, so he was truly excited about the opportunity. His voice is as majestic as ever, and his comic timing is impeccable. His performance is worth much more than the modest $12.00 ticket fee. Our favorite song in the show was the duet Tevye and Hodel sing at the train station, “Far From The Home I Love.” Haley Cox as Hodel has a beautiful and well trained singing voice.
Rounding out the cast are: Jim FitzRoy, Joseph Tavares, Mike Roberts, Richard White, Charles Palmer, Dawn Lytle, Tanner Thompson, Madelyn Wells, Wilson Haynes, Oliva Campbell, Maggie Fitzroy,Rachel Lytle, Sarah McCawley, Susan Ormerod, Gabrielle Scott, Laura Scott, Sydney Scott, Lori Wells, Walker Wells, Anthony Wing, Ava Zilahy, and Alexandra Gurgis.
Katie Swider was the remarkable Director of this show, the first musical ever for her and sure not to be her last. A recent graduate of the theatre program at Florida State University, she has directed and be in both professional and amateur productions in Florida and Ohio. Besides directing, she is a fine singer and debuted locally at Players by the Sea in “The Wildest.” She will be on stage at Theatre Jacksonville in “Hot Mikado” in June.
Barbara Roberts was the Production Manager. The musical direction was by the husband and wife team, of Dr. Rachel Root and Dr. Tim Root, with Choreography by Felicia Rhoden. The Orchestra that played to perfection has Sam Cline and Boril Ivanov on keyboards, Rick Kirkland and Tony Steve on drums and Stan Piper on bass.
The major players were miked, so that we could hear every wonderful note loud and clear no matter where we sat. Thanks to Thomas Gay for an excellent job of sound mixing. Shawn Garaghan handled the lighting.
The set was conceived and built by a committee that included James Loveland, Jerry Hallan, Mike Roberts, Robb Mitchell, and Mark and Katie Swider. The costumes by Candace Kelly and Maggie Seiler had the cast in period costume. Many of the men had beards, and wore long boots, while the women wore long skirts and long sleeved blouses and covered their heads with colorful scarves.
Christ Episcopal Church is launching a School of the Arts in August that will be open to all ages to experience and grow in the fields of music, dance, drama and the visual/performing arts. For more information call 904-285-6127 ext 233.
This was a well performed and thoroughly entertaining production of Fiddler on the Roof, which everyone should see several times in their lifetimes. Call 285-6127 for reservations. The church has ample well lit off the street parking behind the main buildings.