Bill Nolte Brings Heart, Soul and Fine Voice to Tevye!

Published: Monday, October 22, 2012 7:00 am By: Kathryn Kitt Source: The Journal News

“Fiddler on the Roof” soars or sinks with Tevye.

A weak dairyman can throw all of Anatevka off-kilter. But a robust Tevye — such as Bill Nolte, now on stage in Westchester Broadway Theatre’s winning production — can raise the roof upon which that famous fiddler is perched.

Some say the role doesn’t require a singer, but Nolte’s operatic reading of the role at the dinner theater belies that. In songs such as “If I Were a Rich Man” and “To Life, L’Chaim,” he hits every emotional note with beautiful, meaningful accuracy.

While Tevye can be played purely for laughs, Nolte doesn’t veer into shtick, and still delivers the jokes smashingly.

Thanks to Nolte, the superb direction and choreography of Richard Stafford and a hard-working company, this “Fiddler” achieves everything one would expect for this classic musical.

The story, based on the short stories of Sholem Aleichem, is set in 1905, in the small Russian village of Anatevka. Tevye the dairyman lives with his wife, Golde (Emily Zacharias), and five daughters, in a world bound by tradition but changing with the times. As Tevye works though his own demons, tries to keep balance within his family and experiences the hardships of tsarist pogroms that threaten their very existence, he undergoes a perilous, but redeeming, transformation.

Composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and librettist Joseph Stein wove the stories with classic songs like “If I Were A Rich Man,” “Tradition” and “Sunrise Sunset” and Jerome Robbins created the choreography that remains a highlight of the show 48 years after it first reached Broadway.

With Nolte setting the tone, the WBT company is energetic and first-rate.

Zacharias matches Nolte in acting and the pair share a dynamic chemistry. Their “Do I Love You?” duet fit seamlessly in the story.

The three eldest daughters — played by Rachel Prather (Tzeitel), Sarah Rolleston (Hodel) and Dana Glaus (Chava) — have a wonderful rapport and delight the audience with “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

The daughters have suitors who bring energy to the story. As Motel the tailor, Andrew Borza’s delivery of “Miracle of Miracles” made full use of the dinner-theater stage, surrounded on three sides by the audience. Joe Longthorne, who plays Hodel’s beau, Perchik, had the right mix of anger and vocals in his scenes with Sarah Rolleston. One of the most wrenching moments for Tevye occurs when his third daughter announces she wants to marry a non-Jew, the Cossack Fyedka (Chris Giordano). The pain of this seeming betrayal was evident on Nolte’s expressive face.

The youngest daughters are played by local girls: Gianna Florio and Julia Gold alternate as Bielke; Samantha Robins and Shannon Stout alternate as Shprintze.

Terry Palasz (Yente), Eric Johnson (the Butcher Lazer Wolfe) and the talented ensemble are the estimable comic relief of the show, weaving in and out of the story effortlessly.

The “Dream” sequence — in which Tevye tries to convince Golde that Tzeitel should marry Motel — had a Technicolor flair to it, complete with bright costumes, lighting and a Frumah Sarah who nearly steals the show.

Jonathan Hatton’s sound design is well-balanced, enabling the speaking parts to be heard clearly. John Farrell’s imaginative set design — a brightly lit scrim, with a scenic view of clouds and sunshine, and the outline of houses — rendered Anatevka simply. The lighting design, by Andrew Gmoser, was (you should excuse the expression; it is “Fiddler,” after all) spot on.

“Fiddler on the Roof” is a classic story well-told at the dinner theater through Nov. 25, then — after a holiday run of “Miracle on 34th Street” — back from Jan. 3 to Feb. 3.