The Kansas City Star (excerpts):
Spinning Tree Theatre tapped Gary Neal Johnson, who ranks among the city’s most respected actors, to step into Tevye’s boots for its affecting production. Johnson’s immersion in the role appears effortless as he combines depth of feeling and flawless comic timing to bring Tevye to life.
Andrew Parkhurst and Michael Grayman, who co-directed and co-choreographed the show, surround Johnson with a big company of talented performers who fill the relatively intimate Just Off Broadway with life and color. “Fiddler” requires an enormous cast and in the big numbers virtually every inch of the stage is filled by actors and dancers.
But watching this show in a small theater gives viewers a unique perspective. In the quieter moments, the actors are able to achieve an intimacy that simply wouldn’t be possible at Starlight or the Music Hall.
Julie Shaw brings her customary poise and underplayed sense of humor to Golde, Tevye’s perpetually exasperated wife. The three principal daughters are played memorably by Kami Rogers as Tzeitel, who marries Motel (Bob Wearing), the tailor, after compelling her father to negate his marriage agreement with the local butcher; Sara Belhouari as Hodel, who falls in love with the young radical teacher Perchik (Mead D’Amore); and Megan Herrera as Chava, who breaks Tevye’s heart by marrying a young Russian, Fyedka (Seth Macchi).
T.J. Lancaster stands out as Lazar Wolf, butcher, alongside strong supporting performances by Nancy Nail as Yente the Matchmaker, Trevor Belt as the Rabbi, Devin Burns as Mendel (the Rabbi’s son) and Michael Golliher as Mordcha (the inkeeper).
The small band, led by musical director Angie Benson on keyboards and accordion, shows just how good Bock’s music is without lavish orchestrations. Jonathan Lloyd Schriock is the Fiddler and plays his instrument with authoritative ease. Kudos to sound designer Jeff Eubank for keeping the many voices and instruments in proper balance throughout.
Matt Mott’s scenic design is spare but effective awhile Kate Mott’s costumes, though grounded in reality, at times shimmer with color. Making a particularly potent contribution is Shane Rowse’s lighting design, which is by turns vivid and nuanced.
In essence, this show is about the inevitably of change. Tradition is always vulnerable to historical forces. We can plan our lives but never predict the future. This production articulates those themes beautifully.
The Pitch (excerpts):
Spinning Tree Theatre’s Michael Grayman and Andy Parkhurst have grabbed hold of the story’s essence and created a thoughtful, funny and moving production…
…(Gary Neal) Johnson (as Tevye) is note-perfect, with a multilayered portrayal that’s sensitive, heartfelt and humorous.
Julie Shaw inhabits Tevye’s wife, Golde, with the right mixture of aloofness and wifely meddling as a woman who knows her place but can still yield power. Their “Do You Love Me?” touchingly hits at the essence of their 25-year marriage. Their three oldest daughters (Kami Rodgers, Sara Belhouari and Megan Herrera) bring distinct voices to roles that not only represent society’s constraints…but also the changes encircling the family. (In a second supporting role, Rodgers also comically portrays her dead Grandma Tzeitel in a hilarious nightmare sequence, “The Dream,” in Act 1.)
A large cast has been assembled, more performances than can be noted in this space. But a few highlights: Bob Wearing wears fear and uncertainty like well-fitting clothes, eliciting sympathy for his weak-kneed tailor Motel, who courts eldest daughter Tzeitel. We feel his joy in his celebratory “Miracle of Miracles.” T. J. Lancaster brings a strong presence as Lazar Wolf… Also good is Mead D’Amore as Perchik… And in a small role, Matthew A. King lends his charisma and powerful singing voice to the Russian soldier Sasha.
The exceptional musicians play an integral part in this production and are woven into scenes as members of the community: Fiddler Jonathan Lloyd Schriock, music director Angie Benson on piano and accordion, Joe Levens on guitar and mandolin, and James Westbrook on clarinet. This fusion makes for smooth segues and for especially fluid storytelling.
…presented with tightness of execution, great humor, and poignancy by Spinning Tree Theatre.
Spinning Tree Theatre brings this big story to the intimate Just Off Broadway Theatre, and it comes to life in the hands of some of Kansas City’s biggest local stars.
Gary Neal Johnson stars as Tevye, the story’s colorful protagonist, and Julie Shaw joins him as Golde, his wife. Both together and apart, these two are perfectly matched for these parts. Johnson perfectly captures Tevye’s odd balance of wisdom and foolishness, as well as his constant struggle to reconcile the way the world seems to be and the way that tradition would indicate it ought to be. Shaw’s Golde is sardonic but compassionate, and her comic timing is a dream. The pair did a fabulous job with on eof the sweetest, tenderest moments in the musical theatre canon, “Do You Love Me,” turning it into an almost shy conversation between partners who have never considered if their relationship extended to include feelings of affection.
The persistent element of realism in this production was most impactful; Grayman and Parkhurst have embraced what are the company’s strengths, and have dispensed with elements that might prove distracting or unnecessary. This production excelled in its use of achievable choreography, lack of distracting accents, and a commitment to the talents of their actors and crew above all else.
…Kansas Citians would be highly advised to spend an evening visiting the small village of Anatevka and the warmth, humor, and humanity that lives there.