KPBS AIRDATE: February 15, 1995
It’s been a Bock and Harnick week. What a treat! Two shows by the incredibly inventive duo: composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick. First a brief stop by Theodore Bikel, on the 30th anniversary tour of “Fiddler on the Roof,” a masterwork that broke all accepted rules of commercial success: a musical that dealt with persecution, poverty and prejudice. It’s big, it’s broad, it’s unforgettable. It ran on Broadway for eight years, and every note is singalong familiar.
Bikel has played the role almost 2000 times; I think he’s got it down. He is a quiet Tevye, the dairyman with five daughters, every one of whom persistently breaks with some Tradition. But he plays up the humor, even if he mysteriously plays down those inimitable debates with God about what’s on one hand and what’s on the other, insofar as his daughters’ marriages and rebellions are concerned.
It was a polished but imperfect production, but it was a trip to see Bikel. If you missed it, your loss. But don’t miss its kissing cousin, “She Loves Me,” the little 1963 Bock and Harnick jewel that was almost forgotten, relegated to cult status, till it was revived to great success in New York a couple years back.
The Lamb’s Players Theatre, which sizzles in small musicals, has mounted a dreamy production, a sheer delight. Everything is just about perfect. Things move along at a lively and amusing clip, with three turntables converting the centerpiece 1930s Hungarian perfumery into a romantic cafe, a hospital room, a street scene, a bedroom. The cast is terrific, and each character gets to show off in a spotlighted solo, each stronger than the one before.
It may be the best vehicle ever for Deborah Gilmour-Smyth, who’s radiant but not over the top, and whose voice wraps melodically around the starry-eyed role of Amalia, a lonely shopgirl who strikes up an anonymous correspondence with a guy who turns out to be the annoying co-worker she tussles with daily. Too bad the lush, lovely unpredictable score is spent on such a meager plotline. But this is Valentine’s season and the show is all about love — the superficial kind and the real thing. Robert Smyth has directed lovingly, but with the humor played to the hilt. It’s a delicious production, with luscious costumes and wonderful singing. If you love her… or him… take ‘em to “She Loves Me.”
But if your taste leans more to the tragic, you only have a few days to catch what’s being hyperbolically — but not erroneously — billed as “the greatest play ever written.” It is, of course, “Hamlet.” At the San Diego Repertory Theatre, Jefferson Mays is the Dane done Gen-X, complete with the requisite “inky” outfit, including a backwards baseball cap. He is less frantic or analytical than some Hamlets. His is an adolescent prince, both anguished and confused, petulantly throwing books and literally hanging from the rafters. It’s a masterful performance, most of the time. Director Todd Salovey has set the play in a kind of latter-day police state cum corporate takeover, which generally works pretty well. Doug Jacobs’ King Claudius is particularly strong, a venomous political animal, a “smiling, damnéd villain” in a red power tie, surrounded by sycophants and sunglassed security guards.
But the set is precarious and the evening is long. No matter. Hamlet doesn’t come to visit that often, and you should check him out while he’s in the neighborhood, not to mention transported into this century.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.