Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Theater review: Fiddler on the Roof at Sherman Community Players
A fresh look at a classic musical.
The timeless "Tradition" of Fiddler on the Roof is given exciting freshness in Sherman Community Player's production of the classic.
Fiddler on the Roof is a musical set in Anatevka, a small Russian village in 1905. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters — each one's choice of husband moves further away from the customs of his faith — and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.
The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost ten years until Grease surpassed its run. It remains Broadway's fifteenth longest-running show in history. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine including Best Musical, Score, Book, Direction, and Choreography. It spawned four Broadway revivals, a successful 1971 film adaptation, and the show has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It is also a very popular choice for school and community productions.
It's quite a drive from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Sherman, but I wasn't bothered by that after viewing this production. Overall, it is a wonderful evening of entertainment showcasing some wonderful talent, but it does have difficulty in some areas. These difficulties, however, don't completely diminish the complete package they present on the stage and are overcome as the production progresses.
The theatre is a comfortable proscenium space. It is a smaller house, yet the layout and technical production qualities rival some larger spaces. Upon entering the theatre you are presented with a wonderfully detailed set containing two large movable structures representing building and homes. They flank each side of the stage allowing for a beautiful backdrop of fencing and scenery to be seen far upstage. The entire presentation is well done, period, and prepares you for the setting.
Anthony Nelson's direction is superb in every aspect of the performance. He uses his very large cast well in a relatively small play-space. Intimate moments with one or two characters are strategically placed and accented with directional lighting and large full cast scenes are fluid, and in some cases, breathtaking. Mr. Nelson also executes some very tricky scene changes with professionalism and ease. Never once are you distracted or disengaged from the story.
Musical director and orchestra conductor Fred Freeman's work is spectacular in this production. It is VERY rare to see a community theatre production that boasts a full twenty one piece orchestra, let alone execute a score seamlessly! The music wafts through the space beautifully and always accents the performers on stage. Never once is it unbalanced, overpowering, or distracting. Even the scene change incidentals are played as if the orchestra was in Carnegie Hall, seeking to thrill and delight the audience with every note they play. Mr. Freeman's direction and his talented musicians are simply outstanding. It is also very obvious he works hard with his cast vocally. There are a few weak spots and pitch problems but nothing that pulls you completely away from the action or story. Overall the vocals are very well executed under the direction of Mr. Freeman.
Choreography by Amy Wallace is entertaining and done well. Ms. Wallace uses the dance strength in some of her cast to pull off spectacular moves, yet doesn't overburden the rest with difficult or over-the-top moves. Even in full cast sequences, everyone is placed well, moves well and always accents the scene precisely. Even the infamous bottle dance is executed excitingly and tailored specifically for the performers. Throughout the production, movement and dance add beautifully to the overall presentation of the story.
Tammi Daubenspeck's costume design is another positive addition to the production quality. Period clothing and accessories are well executed and fit each character well. There are just a few odd pieces I noticed, men's pants and belts for example, that are off period, but with such a large cast it can be understood. Primary characters, however, are designed well and have very nice attention paid to detail.
Technical direction by Webster Crocker is seamless. It seems projected/digital scenery is becoming the norm in any sized venue, and in this case it is used very well and effectively. It is the correct size, clear, timed well and always accenting the main stage scenery in every location of the story. There is not a direct credit for the scenic design, but it is very obvious a lot of time went into the creation of the digital effects. The end result is very pleasing to the eye and complimented the artistic quality of the show well.
Amy Jordan's Lighting design and Frank Sanza's sound design work hand-in-hand very well in the production. Lovely isolations of warm lighting and full stage colors accent the scenes wonderfully. Subtle sound effects as well as some loud ones are well placed and executed well. Many times they are both timed with the live orchestra and there is never a moment any are off. These two designers add great depth to the overall production.
Puppet design by Steve Black is spectacular! I won't give away the wonderful secrets and surprises his masterful design produce in the show but it is eye-popping to say the least. I was just blown away the moment the puppetry appears and from the verbal "oooo's and ahhhh's" in the audience reaction, it appears they were also.
The large cast generally works well together, primary and ensemble, and presents a rich, varied level of talent throughout the production. There are some stand-out performances and some that are a bit weaker, but overall it's a good mix.
Tevye is played by Jeffery Hermann and is one of those stand-out performances. Throughout the entire show he engages you in the story, never once letting you go. Mr. Hermann's emotions are expertly revealed and only topped by his vocals. In a large role such as this, strength and dedication are a necessity to make it work. Both are very evident in his wonderful portrayal of this lead role.
Amy Shojai as Golde is a pleasure to watch and hear in this musical. She is perfect in her delivery of the character, and when she sings, you are inspired. From intimate moments like "Do You Love Me?" to comedic timing and delivery, Ms. Shojai is an all-around talent on the stage.
Micaela Hoops playing Tzeitel is perfect in this role and holds her own every scene she's in. There's a charming, endearing quality about her that takes you in and doesn't let you go. Vocally, she does well with just a few minor pitch problems but they definitely do not detract from her overall performance. Tzeitel is probably the most pivotal character in the story, as she and her true love Motel are what make Tevye first break "tradition" that in his eyes is the downward spiral for change in his life. Playing this character incorrectly will make the rest of the storyline hard to believe. However, Ms. Hoops' portrayal is nothing but successful and marvelous.
Cory Taylor as Motel has a difficult time with this role. It is his love for Tzeitel that thrusts the storyline forward, and although Mr. Taylor does have good stage presence, his connection with Tzeitel is not convincing and at times seems awkward. Vocally he does okay but in the special moment of "Miracle of Miracles" the music seems beyond his abilities. Mr. Taylor is a young talent and I'm sure will become more confident with more experience.
Wonderfully endearing are Abby Noblett as Chava and Matthew Maxwell as Fyedka. The chemistry between them on stage is just wonderful. You feel every joy and passionate moment they present to you. The scenes they perform with Tevye in his utter heartbreak are amazing and you can't take your eyes off of them. It is a job very well done by both performers.
Recognition to Blake Rice as Perchik, Noah Scheibmeir as Mendel, Saxon Mctee as a Russian Soldier/Bottle Dancer and the playing the Fiddler, Roger Gregory-Allen is well earned and deserved. Each one stands out at some point in this production and makes you remember them.
Sherman Community Players production is overall a wonderful night of theatre and well worth the family outing. Everyone will be entertained and be presented with a fresh look at Fiddler on the Roof.
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