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Fiddler on the Roof
Opened at Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, ON, Thursday, June 14, 2001
I approached the production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the 1000 Islands Playhouse with some trepidation. Having seen the original Broadway production twice and having conducted 4 different productions, (a total of about 50 performances), all I could think of was, "Again?" Well, to my great surprise I enjoyed it. There's no doubt it's one of the best-written musicals of all time, both the book and the music. Although it's been done to death, it still packs a punch and will never be dated. A warning - don't indulge in too many beverages before the show. Act I is not only one of the best, it's one of the longest and runs an hour and 40 minutes.
FIDDLER is noted for being a prop master's nightmare and designer John Dinning has done a nice job. The set crowds the stage a bit but there's really no way around it, as you need every bit of it to do the show properly. Dennis Horn has done his usual good work with the costumes, and the effective lighting is by the aptly named Kairiin Bright.
Being a conductor I tend to get picky about music. The vocal numbers all sounded good, but on "The Sabbath Prayer" the family groupings were so far off-stage we could neither see nor hear them very well. As for the band - brace yourself-it's not loud enough, especially on "To Life", "The Nightmare", and all the wedding dances. They were playing so quietly that the pulse was lost in both Motel's and Perchik's solos. It's difficult to cut down the orchestra size and Musical Director Sandy Thorburn has done a fairly good job, but he doesn't need to tiptoe so much that all dynamic variation is lost. I missed the klezmer clarinet in the wedding scene, but J.D. Smith added a great deal by playing clarinet when he wasn't on stage as Perchik. The fiddler, Terry Riddoch, played well and also scampered on and off the roof with great elan.
The three young couples are all very good both dramatically and vocally. J.D. Smith as Perchik and Denise Anderson-Irwin as Tzeitel both surprised me. I liked them much better than I had in HAY FEVER. Mireille Lebel as Hodel and Rob Torr as Motel sang extremely well, but both their songs seemed slow. Kate Ann Vandermeer as Chava and Mark Huculak as Feyedka managed to create believable and sympathetic characters with only tiny scenes to do it in.
Unfortunately there are a couple of major weaknesses in the cast, both having to do with an inability to catch the style and vocal rhythm. The majority of these characters were written for actors, not singers. Jacqui Blais as Golde is much too soft and is miles away from being Jewish. It's glaringly obvious in her scenes with Yente as played by Diane Stapley. Miss Stapley is right on the money. David Kemp's playing of Lazar Wolf is also problematic. He's a good actor, but sounds as if he's doing Charles Dickens. His British accent is totally inappropriate for a Russian Jew.
Now Tevye, on the other hand, is quite another matter. Sam Moses is terrific in the role and has got the nuances down cold. He's charming, frustrating and funny. He's especially touching in the "Little Bird" scene. I wasn't surprised to read in his credits that he's a dancer. His body language, in particular his right eyebrow, is great.
Director Greg Wanless and choreographer Kiri-lyn Muir have put it all together smoothly. Miss Muir has created dances that work well for a cast with limited dance ability. She has maintained the flavor of the material, especially the famous "Bottle Dance". Mr. Wanless needs to remind the chorus that "Sunrise, Sunset" is a wedding not a funeral, and that someone besides David Tompkins as Reb Nachum MUST have a couple of happy memories of Anatevka.
Artistic Director Wanless should be proud of this production. It's a big and difficult show to do and in general it succeeds. On a scale of one to five, the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF gets four and a quarter fish. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.