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By Dana Casadei
"Tradition" is the way that the many reviews for "Fiddler On The Roof" will probably start and don't get me wrong: The Encore Musical Theatre Company's version of the hit song is done really well. It starts the show off with a bang, but as viewers are taken more into the world of 1905 Anatevka, it's easy to see that "Tradition" can and will be challenged, sometimes for the better.
In The Encore's nearly three-hour production, directed and choreographed by Barbara Cullen with musical direction by Cheryl Van Duzen, the meaning of tradition for Tevye, Stephen West in a chill inducing performance, is constantly challenged, mainly by his three eldest daughters and the men they fall for.
West is pure perfection as Tevye, a strong man trying to find the balance between tradition and this new way of life that's constantly bombarding his. West has the ability to command the room in the simplest of ways, making it clear that there's nothing overdone in his performance. It's also soon quickly seen how much fun this man is having, with everything from his facial expressions and eyebrows that tell tales of their own to the moments when he sings. And when he sings, watch out.
West, who's a music professor at the University of Michigan and acclaimed opera singer, is a powerhouse on that stage. During his solos, such as the crowd-pleaser "If I Were A Rich Man," is where he gets to let it all out, with a voice that's big enough to fill any Broadway stage, compared to some of the group numbers where he overshadows everyone around him, except for his wife, Golde (Marlene Inman-Reilly).
Inman-Reilly can not only stand her own ground, much like her character, when singing with West, but she brings their duets to another level, taking on a much higher register than West, making them a perfect blend. Their singing is an absolute joy to watch, both for the eyes and the ears.
Their duet in Act Two, "Do You Love Me?," was easily my favorite song of the entire show. It's flawless and perfect to a tee, with both bringing such strong voices that for a few moments it seems as if you're watching an opera instead of a musical.
As for their five daughters, Hodel (Clare Lauer) and Chava (Hannah Clague) are the easy standouts, both giving heart-wrenching performances in two vital moments of the show, not leaving a dry eye in the theater.
Lauer's solo "Far From the Home I Love" has a few weaker moments, but the stronger ones outshine them, leaving an unforgettable performance. Lauer and her love interest, Perchik (Sebastian Gerstner), are also unforgettable, with nice harmonies and the most chemistry between any of the younger couples.
Now it wouldn't be "The Fiddler on the Roof" without mentioning The Fiddler. Emily Slomovits doesn't utter a word throughout the show, but her facial expressions and violin playing say more than anything she would need to.
As amazing as some of the performance were, they wouldn't have been quiet the same if it hadn't been for costume designer Sharon Larkey Urick, making this her seventh production at The Encore and set designer Toni Auletti.
Urick used pieces that fit perfectly with the show, ranging from the men's caps and prayer shawls to the women's dresses and aprons. Each character's outfit was slightly different with small touches, such as the fabric that was chosen, showing the contrast between them. Auletti managed to turn a stage into an entire town, with an amazing set that had the ability to quickly turn into other places, such as Tevye and Golde's bed that popped out of the wall for "The Dream" or adding a few details and becoming a bar and a wedding.
Even though the meaning of tradition changes throughout "Fiddler On The Roof," the love Tevye feels for his family doesn't and neither does the audiences love for this show.
SHOW DETAILS: "Fiddler On The Roof" continues at The Encore Musical Theatre, 3126 Broad St., Dexter, Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 12. Tickets: $26-32. For information: 734-268-6200 or www.theencoretheatre.org.
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