Fiddler on the Roof (Play)

Posted: February 13, 2012 by Micah in Randomnicity
Tags: , ,
A few days ago I got to watch a new staged production of Fiddler on the Roof. That classic sort of singy musical thing about a bunch of Jewish people, some other people who are Jewish while standing on roofs, and some other people who definitely aren’t Jewish and could be Russians, Nazi’s, or your mom.

Sequel to the little known Musical: Basoonest on the Couch

The Plot:

Okay so… the play opens with Tevya (local milkman/beard guidance counselor) walking through the streets of Annyourketa… Tacklerevka? Something. Anyway he’s walking through the town and Dick Van Dyke is standing on a roof singing about “Stepping Time” with some hilarious British street urchins… wait… no. Sorry. Wrong roof. This roof (a far more Jewish sort of roof) has a fiddler on it! This fiddler (who I will call Craig since whoever wrote this play didn’t actually give him a name) seems to be very important despite not really being in the play at all. But the play (after all) is NAMED after him!

Anyway, Tevya, Craig, and the residents of Kappleravka seem to be quite happy with their lives of abject poverty and nameless fiddlers keeping everyone up all hours. Tevya has three daughters… technically he actually has 5 daughters but the other two are children and no one apparently likes them so we’ll lump them in with the other unimportant character (Craig). Anyway, these three daughters (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) all want to get married (as women are wont to do) to three upstanding men who are (respectively) hilariously/gregariously poor, insane/imprisoned, and one of the thoughtless drones of the evil overlord. So well done there.

Tevya will have to balance his own longing for the simple stability of Haveasesna with his daughters new-found longings for love. And we must ask ourselves the tough questions in life, like where are my own boundaries? And why is Tevya under the impression that his daughter is “a little bird?”

Some random thoughts that don’t fit into any of my usual categories.

All joking aside: Fiddler on the Roof has an incredibly well put together, well thought out, storyline that happens to come equipped with one of the best main characters of our modern literary era. Yes, I just said that… or typed that… whatever. But let’s take a second here and talk about musicals. Not musicals the genre and whether or not I find them hilariously out of place 95 percent of the time (which I do) but musicals from a purely director/actor standpoint. There are two ways to cast for musicals.

Way A: Get the best actors you possibly can and hope they don’t ruin the movie with their semi-horrible singing. As an example of this I give you; “Sweeney Todd: Crazy Looking Barber Who’s Chair I Would Never EVER EVER Sit in Even if He Wasn’t a Deranged Psychopath.” Johnny Depp played the title character and Depp (while phenomenally talented) is not exactly a premier singing talent. Did he absolutely nail the role from an acting standpoint? Yes. Was he passable enough at the singing portions that you forgave him? Yes. Is there someone else who could have done the singing portions better? Yes.

Way B: Get the best singers you can find and hope everyone will forgive them for not being the best actors. As an example of this I give you the movie version of Phantom of the Opera. Now I’m not saying Phantom of the Opera was a bad movie (despite having a plot that essentially revolves around one women being a complete moron). I AM saying that it did not feature anyone who will be competing with the aforementioned Mr. Depp when it comes to acting. I mean probably the most famous actor in that movie was Gerrard Butler who spent half the time in a mask and has never exactly been the pinnacle of acting awesomeness (he is largely famed for screaming a lot and wearing tiny underpants in 300). Was Phantom of the Opera the best acted movie ever? No. Was it good enough songwise that no one noticed? Yes.

So the question arises if professional studios with millions of dollars being poured into projects are forced to choose between option A and B why should we expect anything less from a Grad student directed project with hundreds of dollars being slowly trickled into it like the last drips from the empty pot of coffee that your co-worker Bill Fitzin neglected to refill?

The music:

The music for this particular Fiddler showing was superb. The live orchestra was brilliant, the cast of singers (most notably Dave Parker in the role of Tevya) were spot on and for the next two or three weeks I completely expect to be randomly humming the sound track to myself as I engage in my favorite pastime (recreational bear jellying). Special props must go to the aforementioned Dave Parker, but also to Judy Morehouse and Tamara Jones who carried a decent amount of the voice work as well. James Yang (the orchestra director) also deserves some props… so there you go James. Have a prop.

It's a prop. For James. Also conceivably the least funny thing I have ever done on this site... which is saying a lot.

The choreography (which I’m combining with the music section for artistic reasons (i.e. laziness)) was absolutely spot on. The Bottle Dance, the dream sequence, and “To Life” were some of my personal favorites. Carmen Scott (the Choreographer… ett) did a great job pulling all of these scenes together and making the piece flow without doing something almost any other choreographer in her position would have done. Namely: make gross sums of money.

The Acting

Please don’t think that the above paragraphs at all are meant to say that the acting in Fiddler was bad. It was very good. With stand out performances from John Cox, Stephanie Greenwood, and Jessica Bowers really carrying the rest of the cast. On the whole the acting was strong and the cast more then made up for any slight weaknesses with their strong voice performances.

The positives:

A great musical that will leave you plenty to think about and plenty to hum about as you go about your life. Spot on choreography, great vocal work, and good acting carry a phenomenal script and a great musical score through a two and a half hour production that doesn’t feel nearly that long.

The Negatrons:

Occasionally singers were overwhelmed by the orchestra. Occasional acting lapses popped up far too infrequently to really bother anything seriously. And every once in a while a tech issue would happen more or less because the building we were in was not built with say…. a musical featuring 60 people and a live T-rex on stage, in mind (I may have made up the T-rex).  But, once again, let’s go back and look at “no budget” and the aforementioned music vs. acting debate.

 In Conclusion:

Karen Greenwood helms a great production with a well rehearsed cast and a great musical feel to it. Was it perfect? No. Is anything? No. Did it absolutely do it’s very best and present an incredibly enjoyable piece of theater that gave you tons to think about? Yes. Absolutely. And that (after all) is why we bother with theater in the first place.

  1. David says:

    Fact – Johnny Depp sang Sweeney incredibly well. What could you possibly criticize in his voice?
    Fact #2 – Gerard Butler sings not unlike a Grizzly Bear with a bad case of the cholera.

  2. Micah says:

    What could I possibly criticize his voice? I’m not saying he sang badly young Dave. I’m saying someone else of less acting chops and more pure vocals could have sang it better. As for Gerard Butler I’ll take your word for it. My point still stands, you have to go for one or the other in 99 percent of cases. My one great exception/guy who has a reputation for doing both well is Hugh Jackmen (soon to play the lead in Les Mis).

  3. David Parker says:

    Very gracious and fair – and hilarious – review. Thanks!

  4. Stephanie Greenwood says:

    Thanks Micah…Although I wouldn’t agree with my acting abilities. Funny enough I would attribute anything I did well to Jon or Jessica! lol They actually knew what they were doing! And agree about Hugh Jackmen!!!!!! LOVE HIM! 🙂

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