Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fiddler on the Roof - Hudson Valley Theater Review

From Gale:

I figured I’d give Erica a break on reviewing shows. We saw an excellent production of Fiddler on the Roof at Red Hook High School on Sunday – yes, the same play Erica saw on Friday at the Center in Rhinebeck. Maybe that’s why I’m reviewing instead…

This show was directed by the lovely Deborah Temple, with musical direction by Lisa Glickenhouse, David Temple, and Nick Reilingh.

The scene that welcomed us when we arrived was quite surprising to me; instead of an auditorium, the students of Red Hook High School were forced to perform in a gymnasium. The floor was covered with grey tarps and folding chairs. Erica and I chose seats on some wooden bleachers pulled out from the side wall.

After the lights went down, I soon forgot about my hard wooden seat in the gymnasium. The first thing that jumped out at me about the play was the sheer number of actors. As more and more townsfolk poured out of the wings for the opening song “Tradition” I was struck by how well organized they were. Anyone that can organize 50+ actors dancing on stage at the same time without anyone getting trampled deserves a gold star in my book, but the choreographers (Deborah Temple, Amber McCarthy, and Lisa Zarow) did far more than that. The dances were well put together, whether involving a couple of characters or the whole town, and fit in appropriately with the sentiment of the scenes.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was how well the young actors played elderly characters. Most notable was the matchmaker, Yente, played by Betsy Levy. Whether dancing with her cane or bopping townsfolk on the head, she was a little old jewish lady through and through. Also wonderful were Grandma Tzeitel (Shelly Green) and Fruma-Sarah (Gina von Trapp).

The most surprising (and impressive!) scene of all for me was “the Dream”. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows the scene I’m referring to – ghosts flying and zombie-like townsfolk stumbling about. It’s really cheesy. I can’t even stand to listen to this song on the cast recording. I was shocked by the portrayal of this scene. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck prickling when Fruma-Sarah – a towering giant – came gliding onto the stage. The fantastic costuming and makeup (April Tiberio & Christine Hoppe) added to the effect of this scene, making the overall atmosphere very eerie.

The part of Tevye was quite convincingly played by Kevin Shivers. His lovely deep voice was wonderful to listen to as he brought out the classic songs of the show such as “If I were a Rich Man”, and his demeanor changed very convincingly between joy and sadness, frustration, confusion, and acceptance. Unfortunately, however, his speaking voice did not have the rich deep timbre of his singing voice, and I found the transitions between the two a bit jarring. Golde (Katie Wagner) shared this problem – her clear soprano singing voice was a hard switch from her powerful alto speaking voice. The pair did create quite a dynamic between them, especially noticeable in “Do You Love Me?”, which made their scenes a joy to watch.

The three oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Maureen Crittenden), Hodel (Sally Carson), and Chava (Shannon Streifender) were all wonderful singers and very convincing in their parts. They really were able to convey their relationship with one another, without using any words. This extends also to Motel (Peter Fraleigh) and Perchik (Ryan O’Leary) – Motel’s was an especially nice surprise when he sang “Miracle of Miracles”. This is another song I skip on the soundtrack, but his clear tenor voice and passionate delivery made it great.

The set was one of the better that I’ve seen in any musical recently. Designed and built by David Temple (of classical guitar fame), this set allowed scene changes to take place in almost no time at all – a very important factor in a play that can last upwards of 3 hours (this one was over in 2.5 hours). The set was able to switch from Tevye’s house to the village and back again in just a few seconds, and it looked beautiful – complete with a thatched roof for the fiddler to play on top of!

All in all, I thought this was a great portrayal of Fiddler on the Roof. It definitely was the best high school musical I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, Sunday was the closing show, so it’s too late to see it – but be sure to check out future shows there! And if you can, donate some money for an auditorium for the kids to perform at. They really deserve it.

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