Trowbridge Amateur Operatic Society
Fiddler on the Roof
Book by Joseph Stein – Music by Jerry Bock – Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
24th May 2011 Arc Theatre, Trowbridge
Director Matt Heaton - MD Helen Heaton – Choreographer Allison Moore
Trowbridge AOS provided another winner with this production of Fiddler on the Roof. It is one of ‘the’ classic musicals and is so well known by musical theatre goers. It is therefore always more of a challenge to present such a well-known piece as opposed to something less familiar. Director Matt Heaton, sensibly in my opinion, opted for a traditional telling of a traditional story and by and large achieved it very well.
The opening number, Tradition, was very well sung but the staging of it was hampered by having too many people on stage (this was the case for most of the ensemble numbers throughout the production). I was particularly impressed with Yente, the Matchmaker’s intervention in this number and it was obvious from that moment that she was going to be one of the ‘stars’ of this production and that’s how it turned out. The set was very clever indeed and the central piece, the house, was used with dexterity and invention, however it did mean that many of the scene changes were very slow and it turned what is already a long show into one that was even longer.
The song ‘Matchmaker’ was beautifully performed by Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava and I was particularly impressed with Tzeitel’s impression of the Matchmaker (in fact next time TAOS perform the show in 20 years’ time that’s the part for her!). The length of time it took to set the scene into the ‘If I were a rich man’ scene meant that Tevye’s entrance was delayed and he couldn’t drop his cart on the last note of the music as required. However the rendition of the show’s most well-known number was delivered well and I particularly liked the crossing of Tevye’s eyes in the part of the song where that gets mentioned. The audience always eagerly awaits this song and we were treated to a musical number delivered with much thought and character. The ‘light and shade’ was brought out well with good contrast between Tevye’s light hearted desire to be a ‘rich man’ and his duty to God and ability to read the holy book. I also noticed real cheese was being used as from the front row I could smell it throughout the scene!
Sabbath Prayer was sung beautifully but I did notice Tevye was not wearing a skull cap after having said they always keep their heads covered. The ‘To Life’ number built well and it was obvious the men were having a good time performing it which transferred across to the audience. The relationship between Tevye and Lazar Wolf built steadily in this scene and was most amusing throughout. The scene between Tevye and Tzeitel was particularly well portrayed, as was Tevye’s Monologue, with the depth of acting from both characters most impressive. There then followed a wonderful rendition of Miracle of Miracles that encapsulated the joy Motel had in gaining permission to wed Tzeitel really well. This splendid number was undoubtedly one of the highlights of this production for me. It was simple and effective and a sheer joy to watch.
Another one of the highlights of the show was ‘The Dream’ which was handled masterfully on this small stage. The use of the bed was clever as it was swung round from audience facing to back facing, the crossing of the stage by Tevye and Grandma Tzeitel from side to side made interesting viewing and the entrance of Fruma-Sarah from between the houses was fantastic – the UV lighting worked really well here. The wedding scene again built nicely after another good singing performance with Sunrise Sunset although I must say that the bottle dancers looked rather like frightened rabbits in car headlamps. Act one ended with the appearance of the Russians to break up the party and this was handled well although I would have liked to have seen a little more resistance before Perchik was laid out. A little more work on a Russian accent wouldn’t have gone a miss here either.
Act Two opened with another well acted and performed number, Tevye’s Rebuttal before the very tenderly performed number ‘Do you love’ me from Tevye and Golde. The relationship created by these two actors in this song was magical and I’m sure there were many married couples in the audience with knowing looks on their faces. The rumour is a very difficult ensemble piece but TAOS delivered it perfectly with the story always shining through without losing the orchestra along the way and again finished to perfection by Yente.
Far from the home I love is a very tender and moving song and was beautifully performed by Hodel. The scene between Tevye and Hodel at the Railway Station was very moving indeed and I congratulate both actors for their part in this. Having had to say goodbye to a daughter leaving England for Australia some six years ago it was all too real for me. The ballet sequence behind the gauze in Chava Sequence was inspirational and worked really well. Again strong acting between Tevye and Chava in the denial scene that brought tears to the eyes it was so realistic. The finale epitomised the situation in which the residents of Anatevka found themselves and was a fitting finish to a very moving production.
It would be wrong to single out too many individuals for special mention as this really is an ensemble show but obviously one must make mention of Phil Courage as Tevye. His was a performance with a lighter touch, both in terms of voice register and characterisation, than I had seen before in this role and it took me a little while to get into his characterisation. However Phil took every opportunity to use a very amusing script to best advantage and really brought out every ounce of comedy that was available, particularly in Act One. In Act Two Phil showed his tremendous depth of acting ability with some very emotional scenes, especially with his daughters. The light and shade of this character was therefore very well delivered and I congratulate Phil for acting as the bedrock for this production.
Phil was ably assisted by Tina Duffin, a newcomer to TAOS, in the role of Golde. Again this performance was delivered with a lighter touch than I’m used to and I really enjoyed it. It was obvious that she was’ in charge’ and the scenes between her and Tevye were very special indeed. Coupled with that was a very pleasant singing voice and a wonderful sense of comic timing that resulted in a first class all-round performance. I’ve already expressed my liking for Jacs Brady as Yente as here was an actor also with an obvious sense of timing and somebody that has tremendous stage presence. This part was beautifully performed. TAOS are indeed fortunate to have two ladies of this middle age to compete for leading parts and I look forward to seeing them in ‘Hello Dolly’, ‘Anything Goes’, etc. in years to come!
Andrew Curtis as Motel was a sheer joy and it was obvious he had spent many hours considering the part and understanding it. His singing was delightful and he gave an all-round first class performance as this shy and retiring young tailor. A mention too for Jon Hawker as Mendel who had wonderful voice projection, especially in the singing, and it was a pity this character is not featured more. The rest of the cast all added greatly to the quality of the overall performance and I congratulate them all.
The costumes were perfect for the piece and the general lack of make-up made the production very ‘real’. Sound and lighting were good and I congratulate the backstage crew for their sterling efforts in constantly transforming the very clever set, albeit it did take time as previously mentioned. The many and varied props throughout were well presented and used. A word of advice however for the props team when bringing on important props for ‘gags’ in scenes that follow would be to cover said prop to avoid killing the gag e.g. the sewing machine which was evident to the audience before the chorus gathered around it by which time it was too late. The orchestra was generally very good although I did find early on a little hesitancy in their delivery. It may have been some concern in ensuring the cast and orchestra were together as one.
Overall it must be said that TAOS have produced another winner and I congratulate Matt & Helen Heaton, Allison Moore and the cast and crew for their sterling efforts. Having performed in this musical myself three times I know only too well what an emotional roller coaster it is and you bottled that emotion and delivered it for Trowbridge audiences to enjoy and appreciate – well done and roll on South Pacific!!!
NODA Representative District 10