Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Theater review: Fiddler on the Roof at Campus Theatre in Denton
A stylized Fiddler that's highly recommended.
Upon first hearing that the Music Theatre of Denton (MTD) came up with a stylized version of Fiddler On The Roof (playing at Campus Theatre through May 13), I must admit I shuddered. I wanted the stubborn ideas in my head of how this show should be done to be honored and upheld - tradition! MTD proved me wrong. This production tottered on a tightrope masterfully by keeping the interpretation of the story true to the intentions of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, creators of the music and lyrics, but still added the modern element of witty and sophisticated computer projections of the scenery.
Again and again we were caught off guard by the startling interactions of the characters with their graphic electronic background. The animations had the feel of traditional silhouettes and wood block prints yet computer technology fused it together in a mesmerizing way. I found the metaphor of the pieces of the Russian village of Anatevka assembling and reassembling on the screen and finally breaking apart so poignant. The bursting apart of the village homes represented the sorrowful scattering of the Jewish people during the bloody period of the Tsarist Russian rule.
The projections in the bedroom scene were particularly engaging. Phillip Lamb designed and executed them to interact with the characters' movements in delightful ways. The actors handled this element so well that the audience burst into applause several times.
I've heard such exuberant clapping for singers holding long notes or dancers accomplishing acrobatic jumps but never before for a special effect projected on a screen. The praise was well deserved.
The last production I reviewed for MTD was Funny Girl and this troupe continued to impress me with their novel offering of yet another frequently performed classic. Their cast included a whole clan which bolstered the themes of both this particular musical and what community theater is all about—keeping families together. Look in the playbill for the name Sims in the cast and you'll see it repeated six times. Melissa Sims' five children didn't distract or overact as young actors in smaller roles occasionally do but instead were spot on in their supporting roles as adorable village children.
The pivotal role of the father Tevye makes or breaks this show. In the past I've seen it acted comically well but sung like a frog. However, John Evarts brought ingenious charismatic acting and solid vocal skills to the role. As Tevye, Evarts enthralled the audience with his charming chats with God. Yet we deeply felt his anguish when his daughter Chava, performed by Emily Staniszewski, chose a Russian soldier for a spouse. Tevye still dared to speak to his daughter by whispering to her through another even after declaring Chava as dead to the family. I liked this emphasis of forgiveness underneath it all. Evarts balanced the tragic with the lighthearted as well as the fiddler balanced on the rooftops.
Violinist Rob Amberson played the new-fangled fiddler who appeared as a silhouette projection on the screen. His authentic and buoyant musical stroking of the strings in the jaunting Jewish melodies helped place us in the Russia of 1905. Ray Staniszewski directed the orchestra to support the dancing and singing with lovely accompaniment.
I wished for even fuller sound from them when it was their time to shine at musical interludes. The skillful reed players, Lynn Hudson and Randy Honeycutt, played the darling melodies with such carefree spirit. I wouldn't have minded if their mics had also been turned up a bit more.
The costumes designed by Elsie Barrow were accurate to the time period. The predominantly black garbs with occasional splashes of color from bright accessories worked well. The hair and makeup designed by Lona Wolf was most effective when the actor actually grew his own whiskers as in the case of the Rabbi, humorously played by Paul Silvernale. His long scraggly beard denoted much more wisdom than his gloriously goofy one-liners such as "May God bless and keep the Tsar…far away from us!"
However, the artificial beards on the faces of the women playing and dancing male roles could have been attached better and touted "It's not real" in a distracting way. Still, the dancing choreographed by Anne Black Scalf was beautiful and helped divert my attention from black beards placed on smooth feminine faces. The virile execution of athletic bottle dance was smoldering.
The matchmaker Yente, played by Carl Howdeshell, captivated us with her perpetual meddling and excessively clear diction. We giggled when Yente slipped in, "So, it happened to be open," as she handed over a love letter with the envelope's tab flapping in the wind.
The female leads of the wife Golde (Michelle Markle), daughter Tzeitel (Abi Abel), daughter Hodel (Tara Linn Hunter), and Chava were sung very well. I noted vocal fatigue in nearly all the leads as the show progressed and would prefer to hear more diaphragm-supported singing. However, in the opening scene the voices were in strong balanced harmonies. The "Sabbath Prayer" and "Do You Love Me" numbers performed by Golde and Tevye held the audience's attention with soft intensity. However, some struggling on high notes was apparent. The final song "Anatevka," showed wear and tear on the voices but was danced and acted well and received an immediate standing ovation.
Your timing must be precise to catch this show which I highly recommend. The sun sets on Anatevka for a final performance on May 13.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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