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Well-known Italian-American character actor Paul Sorvino adds considerable star power to the North Carolina Theatre’s luminous presentation of Fiddler on the Roof, which plays tonight through Sunday at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. But there are stars aplenty in the stellar supporting cast.
Sorvino is the nominal headliner; and his characterization of the long-suffering Tevye, the Jewish dairyman who constantly misquotes the Good Book and talks to God in a series of amusing asides. Tevye lives in pre-revolutionary Russia. He is blessed with a sharp-tongued wife and three headstrong older daughters.
Paul Sorvino’s portrayal of Tevye is vivid and detailed. His comic timing is precise, and his singing is superb. At 6’4”, the stocky Sorvino towers over his supporting cast; and the only flaw in his performance is that sometimes his facial expressions and his gestures are too subtle to register with ticket buyers sitting in the cheap seats.
Carolann Page is an absolute delight as Tevye’s prickly outspoken wife, Golde, who nags and scolds her dawdling husband. Dana Meller, Elena Shaddow, and Cary Michele Miller each give passionate, personable performances as Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, respectively. Tevye’s three oldest daughters constantly vex their father by defying tradition, especially by choosing their own future husbands, rather than accepting the match arranged by their father and mother.
Pauline Cobrda is highly amusing as Yente the Matchmaker, kvetching her way through life; Keith Gerchak is impressive as small but spunky Motel the Tailor, the mouse who becomes a mensch and wins Tzeitel’s love in the process; and Michael Hunsaker is good as Perchik the Student, whose fiery revolutionary whom Hodel follows into exile in Siberia.
Tim Caudle is funny as Lazar Wolf the Butcher, the fat, middle-aged, well-to-do suitor whom Tzeitel rejects; and Julie Oliver and Heather Patterson King contribute vivid cameos as the indignant ghosts of Grandma Tzeitel and Lazar Wolf’s first wife, Fruma Sarah, in the show’s famous dream sequence. J.D. Demers is good as the village Constable, caught between his friendship with and sympathy for his Jewish neighbors and Moscow’s brutal edicts; and Tom Sellwood is charming as Fyedka the Russian Soldier, who shares an interest in reading Great Books with Chava.
Tim Wiest is cute as the ancient, white-bearded village Rabbi; and Alan Seales memorably mimes his role as the ubiquitous Fiddler of Anatevka. The Russian Dancers (Stas Kmiec, Jonathan Ritter, and Robbie Roby) and the Bottle Dancers (Jason Babinsky, Carmen Yurich, Kimec, and Roby) at Motel and Tzeitel’s wedding also give standout performances
NCT guest director Greg Ganakas takes a fresh approach to Fiddler, which features a brilliant book by Joseph Stein adapted from the stories of Sholom Aleichem and a magnificent score by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick. Ganakas recasts the show’s events in darker, more sinister shades dictated by the rising tide of anti-Semitic violence and repression in Tsarist Russia, circa 1905.
The Jews of the remote tiny village of Anatevka suffered a series of outrages, before the final edict came down from Moscow evicting them from the town where they had lived all their lives. Ganakas wants the audience to feel this suffering viscerally, and he works with lighting designer John Bartenstein to emphasize the growing darkness facing the Jewish residents of Anatevka.
In recreating Jerome Robbins’ choreography from the original Broadway production, choreographer Ken Daigle gives NCT audiences a real treat: a Fiddler full of the kinetic energy generated by dance at its most dazzling. The scenery and props originally created for the Music Theatre of Wichita and the costumes leased from Dodger Costumes, Inc. and supplemented by NCT costumer Ann M. Bruskiewitz make this show a delight to behold and combine with the backstage contributions of technical director Curtis Jones, hair/wig designer Patti Del Sordo, and sound designer Jonathan Parke to make NCT’s Fiddler a must-see musical.
From the show’s exuberant curtain-raiser, “Tradition,” to its poignant
Epilogue, musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy and orchestra make beautiful music together. They make the score of Fiddler sparkle like a precious gem. Indeed, this masterpiece of American musical theater has seldom looked, sounded, and felt so good.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Fiddler on the Roof Tuesday-Friday, Jan. 25-28, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 29, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 30, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$65. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=3513. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067093/. Paul Sorvino: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?id=16222 and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000649/. Sorvino Asthma Foundation: http://www.sorvinoasthmafound.org/ [inactive 8/05]. The Sholom Aleichem Network: http://www.sholom-aleichem.org/ [inactive 10/05].
Tall, stocky Brooklyn-born Italian-American character actor Paul Sorvino, who will star as Tevye the Dairyman who speaks directly to God in the upcoming North Carolina Theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof, is a familiar face to millions worldwide, thanks to countless roles on the big and small screen and on Broadway. Among hundreds of charismatic characterizations, three stand out.
The 6’4” Sorvino earned a 1973 Tony Award® nomination for Best Actor in a Play for his passionate performance as former Scranton (Pa.) High School basketball player and current conniving politico Phil Romano in the Broadway premiere of the 1973 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama That Championship Season by Jason Miller; he chilled moviegoers with his icy impersonation of murderous Mafia don Paul Cicero in Goodfellas (1990); and he originated the role of crusty NYPD Sgt. Phil Cerreta, whom he played for two years (1991-92), in NBC’s prize-winning television series “Law & Order.”
Last Friday night, during a freewheeling “conversation” sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and moderated by Theatre in the Park’s Ira David Wood III, Paul Sorvino told attendees that although he has been typecast as a “goodfella,” he has only played gangsters in seven of his more than 100 screen, stage, and TV roles. Indeed, Sorvino confessed that he started his celebrated show-business career as a singer, but severe asthma (which he has since overcome) sabotaged his childhood dream of becoming an opera singer like his heroes and fellow paisans Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza.
Paul Sorvino said, “I’ve been offered the role of Tevye six or seven times in my life, but I never felt that I was old enough to play it. I think, when I was younger, I saw Tevye as passive.”
Now 65 and the father of two daughters and a son (including Academy Award® winner Mira Sorvino [Mighty Aphrodite]), Sorvino admits that he now sees Tevye as a hero and relishes the opportunity to portray the poor Jewish dairyman with an iron-willed wife and three headstrong elder daughters who lived in the small village of Anatevka in pre-revolutionary Russia in 1905 and suffered through a series of brutal anti-Semitic pogroms ordered by the Tsar in faraway Moscow.
"What makes Tevye heroic for me,” Sorvino explains, “ is he has a great heart and his endurance and his sense of the [traditional] values that brought the Jewish people” through all their travails throughout the centuries.
He adds, “I came to understand that Tevye, indeed, was a hero, because of the way he adapts to very difficult changes. His is the first generation to have to adjust to the very difficult changes in Jewish life” that resulted in several waves of massive immigration from Europe to America, starting at the turn of the 20th century.
Tevye and his family are fictional characters created by beloved Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916) in his story “Tevye and His Daughters”; but Paul Sorvino grew up in a tough Jewish-Italian Brooklyn neighborhood, where his classmates were the grandchildren of Tevye’s real-life cousins. Other playmates included hollow-eyed children of more recently arrived Jewish immigrants fleeing the Holocaust.
Sorvino said, “I have sung as a cantor [in a synagogue], because I love cantorial music.… I think I understand, on a visceral level, what Tevye is going through. Fiddler is a universal story. All of us have seen life change, and have seen threats to our way of live and loss of our dear ones.”
Paul Sorvino claimed, “The secret to Jewish survival is humor. There wouldn’t be any comics without Jews.
"To me,” he added, “Jewish humor is the king of humor. Without that, [the Jewish people] would not have survived. They have experienced one pogrom after another, and they lost six million people [in the Holocaust].”
Sorvino said his mother was a “brilliant pianist.” He added, “She had a big sound.… I grew up listening to music [in the home and on the radio]. There was always somebody playing the piano in my home.”
Paul Sorvino had asthma until age 25. He said asthma and Acid Reflux prevented him from becoming an operatic tenor. (In 1993, he established the Sorvino Asthma Foundation to educate asthma sufferers and build asthma centers across the U.S.)
As a child of radio, Sorvino said, “I have this natural ability to mimic.” So, Sorvino pursued acting as a career, trained at the American Music and Dramatic Academy and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, and studied with legendary acting teacher and fellow Brooklynite Sanford Meisner (1905-97).
"Before I [studied with Meisner],” Sorvino said, “I thought I was God’s gift to the entertainment world.”
He said Meisner taught him to evaluate his own and others’ performances with his “insides,” not his eyes. Some actors strike a false note when they cry copiously on cue, Sorvino said. But that doesn’t mean a thing if they don’t feel what the character feels.
Sorvino claimed that, thanks to his intense training by Sanford Meisner: “I don’t take a backseat to anybody in the world, technically speaking. I wasn’t born with that [acting ability], but I acquired it, because I have a certain standard.”
He added, “Technique is not about learning how to imitate emotion, but about learning where you are. I’m very proud of my technique, because I bought that with labor.”
Sorvino said, “I may have bored you here and there, but I have never, ever been false.”
Later, Sorvino said, “If it doesn’t feel right, it’s wrong. Everything that feels right, as an actor, is right.”
When Fiddler on the Roof, with book by Joseph Stein adapted from the colorful characters and timeless stories of Sholom Aleichem, magnificent music by Jerry Bock, and poignant lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, made its Broadway debut on Sept. 22, 1964 at the Imperial Theatre, “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” and “Sunrise, Sunset” became big hits. The show later transferred to the Majestic Theatre and then the Broadway Theatre. It closed on July 2, 1972, after a then-record 3,242 performances.
The original production of Fiddler, produced by Harold Prince and directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, won nine 1965 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Author (Stein), Best Composer and Lyricist (Bock and Harnick), Best Producer of a Musical (Prince), Best Direction of a Musical (Robbins), Best Choreography (Robbins), Best Actor in a Musical (Zero Mostel as Tevye), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Maria Karnilova as Golde), and Best Costume Design (Patricia Zipprodt). In 1972, Fiddler received a special Tony award for becoming the longest-running Broadway musical.
The 1971 motion-picture version of Fiddler, directed by Norman Jewison, starred Topol as Tevye and Leonard Frey as Motel the Tailor. Topol and Frey received two of the film’s eight Academy Award® nominations. (Fiddler won three Oscars: for Best Cinematography [Oswald Morris]; Best Music, Scoring Adaptation, and Original Song Score [John Williams}; and Best Sound [Gordon K. McCallum and David Hildyard].)
In addition to Paul Sorvino, the North Carolina Theatre cast for Fiddler includes Carolann Page as Tevye’s wife, Golde, Dana Meller, Elena Shaddow, and Cary Michele Miller, as Tevye’s three oldest daughters: Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, respectively; Pauline Cobrda as Yente the Matchmaker; Tim Caudle as Lazar Wolf the Butcher; Keith Gerchak as Motel the Tailor; Michael Hunsaker as Perchik the Student/Revolutionary; Tom Sellwood as Fyedka the Russian Soldier; and Julie Oliver as Grandma Tzeitel.
Director Greg Ganakas and choreographer Ken Daigle will stage the show, and McCrae Hardy will serve as musical director/conductor for Fiddler. The musical’s production team also will include producer William Jones, technical director Curtis Jones, lighting designer John Bartenstein, costumer Annie Bruskiewitz, hair/wig designer Patti Del Sordo, and sound designer Jonathan Parke.
Like some of his Italian forebears, Paul Sorvino is a veritable “Renaissance Man.” In addition to being a well-known actor and a widely respected director, he is a singer, graphic artist, author of How to Become a Former Asthmatic, pianist, painter, sculptor, and much, much more.
"I don’t dabble in anything,” he quipped last Friday night. “I only have professions, no hobbies.” For example, he said, his latest foray into the arts, sculpting, is already earning him commissions!
Triangle theatergoers are in for a rare treat: watching a world-renowned actor play one of the great roles of modern musical theater for the very first time. Paul Sorvino, who likes to slip beneath the skin of the characters he portrays, will bring everything he has — acting training, fatherhood, dealing with headstrong daughters — to the role of Tevye.
"The paradox [of acting],” Sorvino said, is that the most sensitive of us really have to have a rhino’s skin. To be really good, you have to be really sensitive.” But to survive in the acting profession, he said, you have to be tough.
Note: There will be a special Student Preview Night performance of Fiddler on the Roof, followed by a question-and-answer session with the cast, starting at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21st, in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Full-time students and teachers with valid ID can buy tickets for just $15 each. For tickets, telephone the NCT Box Office at 919/831-6950. Tickets must be picked up at the Will Call window, which opens at 6 p.m. Friday.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Fiddler on the Roof Saturday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 16, at 2 p.m.; and Tuesday-Friday, Jan. 25-28, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 29, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 30, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$65, except $15 Student Preview Night Jan. 21 (see above for details). NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=3513. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067093/. Paul Sorvino: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?id=16222 and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000649/. Sorvino Asthma Foundation: http://www.sorvinoasthmafound.org/ [inactive 8/05]. The Sholom Aleichem Network: http://www.sholom-aleichem.org/ [inactive 10/05].