by Terrance Mc Arthur
It stands as a massive monument of musical theatre: Fiddler on the Roof. At one time the longest-running Broadway show (over 3,000 performances), this adaptation of the stories of Sholem Aleichem transcends time and cultures to speak of change and family. The music by Jerry Bock, the lyrics of Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein’s script have entertained audiences around the world for almost fifty years. Now, the Good Company Players at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre have brought it back with Dan Pessano reprising the starring role of Tevye.
In case you have been on another planet without theatre and movies for half a century: Tevye, a Jewish milkman in the Russian village of Anatevka, has five daughters, little money, and a horse that never seems available to pull his cart. He lives in a world where tradition holds the society together, creating stability. The three oldest daughters rock that solid foundation with the choices of their hearts: a poor tailor without a matchmaker, a radical student who defies the old ways…and the authorities, and a non-Jewish Russian. Each girl provides a challenge for Tevye, who is slow to embrace new ideas, but he is a practical man who will usually see a way to accept a different outlook…yet he has limits to his ability to bend.
Dan Pessano is a local monument himself, as actor, teacher, mentor, director, and showman, leading GCP through forty wild-and-crazy seasons of theatre in the Valley. He can deliver a punchline at Olympic distances, and knows how to work an audience better than most politicians. His conversations with God (who seems to be located somewhere over the audience) are chatty, chiding, and filled with a desire for a better life (which is why he gets to sing “If I Were a Rich Man”). His wheedling, conspiratorial style is why Pessano is also identified with the role of Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I talk about Gottados, things to see and do that are part of living in the Valley; seeing Dan onstage is a Gottado.
Mickey needs Minnie. Romeo must have his Juliet, and where there is Tevye, there must be Golde, his wife. Cynthia Culp-Rhodus (Mother Abbess in Sound of Music) stands opposite Pessano and doesn’t flinch at his flights of fantasy, because she is rooted in the love of her daughters. You could see Tevye loving this woman.
Emma Dezubiria is Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. She plays well with others as she leads her sisters through a wistful and poignant version of “Matchmaker.” Her Motel (that’s “MAHT-uhl”; he is not a Holiday Inn) the Tailor is James Sherrill. A fine, tall, young actor who can even play a quasi-Shakespearean wolf, he stands out (I said he was tall) in his GCP (and musical) debut.
Emily Pessano shows confidence and spunk as Hodel, who loves the revolutionary, Perchik (Teddy Maldonado). Her change from excitement to fear is a highlight of the “Matchmaker” number. Maldonado (Galahad in Spamalot) is both impassioned and tender in the often-thankless role.
Christy Hathaway (Chava) is impish and studious, while Shawn Williams as the Gentile Fyedka, shows strength and kindness.
Elizabeth Fiester is such a Yenta, Henry Montelongo is a blustery Lazar Wolf, George Akina is a Yoda-esque Rabbi, and Greg Ruud shows compassion through the hard exterior of the Constable charged with the managing—and the removal—of the Jewish population.
Robin Tubesing, an accomplished violinist, brings live, onstage music to the role of the Fiddler, balancing on David Pierce’s sets and serving as a continuing metaphor in the play. It’s an old show, and GCP has done it before, but the emotions that were true when the Tevye stories were written in the nineteenth century are still true. Fiddler runs at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre, 1226 N. Wishon Avenue at Olive in Fresno, Thursdays through Sundays, until July 14. For tickets go to http://gcplayers.com/ or call 559-266-9494. Go. See it. It couldn’t hurt.For more information, click on our Roger Rocka’s theatre event page link.