Venue: The Drama Barn
In Week 9, DramaSoc produced a four-night run of the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof in the DramaSoc Drama Barn. The musical tells the tale of Anatevka, a little Russian town governed by tradition, and the family of the Jewish milkman Tevye (Peter May). Despite the challenges of mounting a production of such scale in the confined space of the Drama Barn, the small area heightened the intimacy of the setting, drawing the audience into Tevye’s household.
The heart of the narrative revolves around the marriages of his three eldest daughters, each of which forces Tevye to challenge his own beliefs and traditions. Tzeitel (Jess Corner) defies the matchmaker’s suggestions in favour of her childhood friend Motel the tailor (Leo Clasen), while Hodel (Andreane Rellou) falls in love with the student Perchik (Jacob Ashbridge) and leaves the village to stay with him. This scene of parting between Hodel and her daughter had audience members (and, by some reports, cast members) in tears.
The most moving of the three girls’ stories is without a doubt the romance between Chavaleh (Jessy Roberts) and Fyedka (Jacob Taylor), a Christian. Director Carrie Morrison added scenes which silently illustrated their blossoming relationship and there was a quiet authenticity to the developing arc of their romance; the sharp contrast between this and Chavaleh’s confrontation with her father was striking. The heartwrenching parting of Chavaleh from her family caused tears to flow in the audience, backstage, and by the final night onstage as well.
The entire cast was exceedingly talented, tackling demanding music and characters. Cast valiantly strove with the effort of maintaining a Russian accent, both spoken and sung – some with more success than others – but there was nonetheless some extremely diverting background acting, amusing multi-rolling, and several standout performances.
Peter May was more than equal to the challenges presented by the complex character of Tevye, garnering uproarious laughter with the character’s dry wit, as well as convincingly portraying the emotional turmoil that accompanied his daughters’ choices of husband. His wife Golde (Rowan Kitchen) matches and balances Tevye’s character: overbearing and dominant where he is quiet and introspective, but self-aware and subtle when he is angry and overwrought.
In ‘Tevye’s Dream’, the terrifying spectre of Fruma-Sarah (Katherine Johnston) left the audience shaking and flinching away – how such a strong vocal performance was melded with such a demonic screech continues to bewilder and amaze me. Lazar Wolf (Alex McLintock) proved to be another scene-stealer, especially in the clamorous but tuneful chorus number ‘To Life’, his bombastic personality matched only by the eccentricity of the matchmaker Yente (Katie Fozzard).
The production was brought together by strong and invigorating vocal performances, including spine-chilling harmonies that stood out in the calmer numbers ‘Sabbath Prayer’ and ‘Sunrise, Sunset’. Chorus numbers ‘Tradition’ and ‘Anatevka’ began and ended the performances on a strong (and tuneful) note, while Leo Clasen should be commended for his powerful rendition of the joyful solo ‘Miracle of Miracles’. I was pleased and impressed by the inclusion of live band, conducted by Alex Davison, which offered a necessary versatility and spirit to the music.
Ellen Collier’s choreography was varied throughout, offering striking difference in chorus numbers between the bustling town of Anatevka in ‘Tradition’ and the subtle movement of ‘Sunrise, Sunset’. Smaller solo numbers were often given over to free movement by the characters on stage and a greater focus on the vocals, which mostly worked, only occasionally feeling underdeveloped. Again, the small space offered itself towards more subtle performances here. Highlights included the bottle-balancing display in ‘Wedding Dance’, the drunken chaos of ‘To Life’, and Jessy Roberts’ lyrical performance in ‘Chavaleh’.
Despite the occasional number that seemed underdeveloped and a few immersion slaughtering accent slips, each individual’s performance succeeded in reducing the audience to tears of laughter and sorrow. Fiddler on the Roof is an incredibly moving musical, one which requires immense talent to carry out with success. Nonetheless, this dedicated cast and crew proved equal to the challenge, and created a show that will be remembered for years to come.