Theater review: Topol stays in character for Dallas Summer Musicals' 'Fiddler on the Roof'

Written by DSM Columnists on Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 8:31 AM

10:15 AM CDT on Thursday, May 21, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News
ltaitte@dallasnews.com


Nobody finds it odd when a violinist or pianist is still playing a favorite concerto at the end of a 40-year career. So why be surprised that Topol is still playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof?

The Israeli actor had racked up a number of stage performances even before he made the 1971 movie. Now the total is around 2,500. In what is billed as his final tour, he arrived in Dallas for a one-week run at the Dallas Summer Musicals on Monday.

The performer still has what the role requires. That sonorous bass-baritone peals magnificently through the low notes. The stately, if world-weary, bearing and the soulful countenance, blazing eyes clearly visible in the back rows of the huge theater, give Topol, 73, a patriarchal aura. He could as easily be playing Moses or Rasputin – if it weren't for all the droll bits of low humor he tosses off so nonchalantly.

It must be said that spontaneity is not a factor here. Every mournful growl at a bit of bad news, every joyful roll of the eyes, appears calculated and polished to the nth degree. Naturalism also goes out the window in favor of this delicately calculated theatrical flair.

Many old-fashioned masters of comic shtick destroy their material by sending it up. Not Topol. No shred of cynicism or self-indulgence gets in the way of Fiddler's emotional journey. Before empty-nest syndrome had a name, this great musical explored the agonies of letting go – and the star plays them for all they are worth.

The current tour has selling points beyond its leading man. Susan Cella as Golde and Mary Stout as Yente are also masters of the broad comic style. Among the lovely daughters, Jamie Davis' Hodel stands out for her soaring voice. Steve Gilliam's storybook set invests the village of Anatevka with a quaint charm.

Best of all, director-choreographer Sammy Dallas Bayes has reproduced Jerome Robbins' exuberant first-act dances with fiery precision. An important secret of Fiddler's success is the sheer animal energy that drives these sequences. They keep this tale of loss and aging young and vital.

As young and vital as its septuagenarian star.

Theater review: RENT brings New York polish to Music Hall stage

Written by DSM Columnists on Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 7:48 AM

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News
ltaitte@dallasnews.com
12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, May 6, 2009



A little distance brings things into focus: Rent is incomparably the greatest Broadway musical in, say, the last 30 years, and the farewell tour that the Dallas Summer Musicals brought to Fair Park Music Hall on Tuesday is probably your last chance to see it in pristine shape, as good as when in opened in New York 13 years ago.

The back story, of course, is so sad and perfect it seems made up. The young genius who wrote Rent, Jonathan Larson, died of an aneurysm right before the triumphant first performance. His transposition of the story of La Boheme to downtown Manhattan won every prize going, and this tangled skein of sex and romance (straight, gay and bi) in which half the characters are trying to live with AIDS won a whole new generation of fans to the theater.

From the screeches that greeted the first two actors onstage Tuesday, you'd think all those fans were in attendance to greet the show's original stars. Anthony Rapp, as detached filmmaker Mark, looks just like he did in 1996; if anything, his timing and diction are sharper and his performance more engaged. Adam Pascal, playing alienated songwriter Roger, looks leaner and meaner, neither inappropriate to the character; his singing voice has taken on a rasping rocker's edge that works well, too.

Original director Michael Greif has knit the rest of the cast into a tight ensemble. Amazingly, you can hear almost every word in this often intractable space. Former American Idol contestant Lexi Lawson eases her way uncomfortably through Mimi's precarious dance on the fire escape, but her voice and her onstage presence are both gorgeous. Nicolette Hart makes a hilarious Maureen, and Michael McElroy brings his sonorous voice and vast stage experience to Tom Collins. Unfortunately, Justin Johnston doesn't have that seraphic aura you ideally want in the role of Angel, but he dies magnificently.

Ultimately, it's Larson's tingling melodies and handcrafted lyrics (and his skill at building large forms out of both) that make Rent so special. Its frankness about sex and drugs means it's not for everyone. Still, if you are curious or perhaps already know the score, but have never seen the show (or have only seen the dispiriting 2005 screen version), you owe yourself a trip to the Music Hall.



PLAN YOUR LIFE Through Sunday at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 165 mins. $15 to $85.

Buy tickets here: http://www.ticketmaster.com/promo/vf0c6y?camefrom=DSM_WEB_RENT_BLOG