Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Theater review: Fiddler on the Roof at Plaza Theater Company in Cleburne
Plaza showcased the humor, honesty, and beauty of this story.
Talking an 8-year old who has never seen the show into watching Fiddler on the Roof (playing through March 10) is like persuading a grown man to watch an episode of iCarly -- neither are easy tasks. My Junior Associate Theater Critic complained about our review assignment all the way to Cleburne's Plaza Theatre Company, and she continued to bemoan the injustice of her situation through the pre-curtain blackout. But then the music started and "Tradition" began. She stared wide-eyed at the massive ensemble of villagers and then turned to me and said, "Mama, I think I'm gonna like it after all."
In a previous review, I admitted disappointment with one of Plaza's earlier productions and likened the show in question to Snookie's cheese fries: pretty darned good, but not up to par with Snuffer's cheese fries. I was wondrously excited, and relieved, to now proclaim that my experience with Plaza's Fiddler on the Roof was 100% Snuffer's: What an absolutely delightful evening of theater!
The production team at Plaza had always been incredibly creative and smart about how to best use their in-the-round space, show off their sets and costuming, and stage a large ensemble. What I noted with Fiddler more so than any other production I've seen at PTC was the precision and absolute beauty of the group vocals. Soni Barrus co-directed with her husband Jodie (the parents of PTC co-founder JaceSon P. Barrus), but she also served as music director. The harmonies and dynamics during many of the ensemble pieces were a joy to my ears, but the female-only harmony portions of "Sunrise, Sunset" brought forth a lump in my throat to match that joy. Kudos to Barrus for bringing out the absolute best I've heard from any PTC ensemble to date.
The costumes by Kara Barnes were reflective of rural Russia in 1905 and they were uncannily similar to those worn by actors in the 1971 film. JaceSon P. Barrus designed the set and, combined with the properties by Tammie Phillips and the incredible mural paintings by Mayre Stewart and Julie Lee, the village of Anatevka was brought to life in downtown Cleburne. Each of the murals depicted a beautifully-recreated scene from the village: a farm, a house, a synagogue, etc. My favorite part of the set was the area near the main stage where a stone chimney and a thatched roof were added onto the mural for a three-dimensional effect.
This production didn't boast a live orchestra but the tracks were clear and appropriately balanced – they didn't detract from the beauty of the music in any way. The tracks were perfectly cued, and this was the first time I'd seen at show at PTC where the microphones didn't pop at some point. G. Aaron Siler designed the aforementioned sound, and also designed the lighting scheme along with Cameron Barrus. Their choices for certain scenes – especially during "Sabbath Prayer" and "Far From the Home I Love" – were fantastic.
Fiddler on the Roof is truly Tevye's story, and if the Tevye is not strong, the show isn't going to work. Thankfully, Barrus cast Siler in this iconic role, and he did not disappoint. His mannerisms, singing voice, humor, and physicality all blended together to build a lovely, well-rounded Tevye. Tevye's brassy, world-weary wife Golde was played by Samantha Parrish who was positively charming as the other half of this arranged marriage. She was sarcastic and snarky and demanding but she also showed a splendid softness during songs like "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Do You Love Me?"
Siler and Parrish were nothing short of gut-busting funny during "Tevye's Dream." Add Barrus as Grandma Tzeitel, Caroline Rivera as Fruma-Sarah, and a village of tatter-clothed ghosties to the mix, and the painted Plaza floor turned into The Cleburne Comedy Store.
Tabitha Barrus, who also choreographed, played Tevye and Golde's oldest daughter Tzeitel. Secretly in love with her childhood friend Motel, played by Jerry Downey, Tzeitel convinces her father to allow her to marry without the help of the traditional matchmaker Yente, played by Stacey Greenwalt King. Downy was appropriately bumbling and somewhat silly but he performed "Miracle of Miracles" fairly well and he seemed to have genuine fun in his interactions with Miss Barrus. King was harder to believe in her role because of her young age.
I've enjoyed Barrus on stage when I've seen her in previous Plaza shows, but most often as a dancer. Fiddler presented the opportunity for her to show some acting chops with a multi-faceted character and Miss Barrus was equal to the task. She was earnest and cheeky in "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" but then impassioned and firm when she asked for Tevye's approval for her and Motel to marry.
Three of the supporting men stood out amongst the villagers: Auston McIntosh as Fyedka, Andrew Guzman as Perchik, and David Phillips as Mendel. McIntosh's dancing during the "To Life" scene was very impressive, and I was always able to identify Guzman's voice when singing in a group. My eye kept returning to Phillips when he was on stage primarily because he looked every inch the part of a Rabbi's son.
As seems to be the calling of the youngest Barrus children, Mimi Barrus stole the "Chavelah" scene with her precious smile and countenance. Her (dance) partners in crime, Lulu Ashley, Katrina Nicholas as the older Hodel, Taylor O'Toole as the older Chava, and Mimi's sisters Tabitha and Eden, each sprinkled a handful of invisible theater glitter into this scene and made it one of the most memorable of the production. Thank you, ladies.
In some places the show seemed a little rushed and a couple of the best lines were thrown away (i.e. when the Constable confides to Tevye that there is going to be a military demonstration in Anatevka). In a few other places the dialogue seemed to drag, like when Yente comes to visit Golde to tell her about Lazar Wolf's interest in Tzeitel. Notwithstanding the pacing and a few accent and dialect issues here and there (isn't the correct pronunciation luh-KHah-yim?), Fiddler on the Roof was one of the overall best PTC productions to date.
My favorite Plaza production, 2010's A Christmas Carol, introduced live instrumentation that flowed seamlessly with the story. The production team chose to use a talented violinist for this production, Jeanette Vehwig, and as she performed she literally became The Fiddler on the Roof. The humor, honesty and beauty of this story – combined with Plaza's energy and commitment to family-oriented theater – made this drive to Johnson County a no-brainer.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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- Theater review: Join one father's journey through religion and war in Fiddler on the Roof
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