Fiddler on the Roof

Date 27th April 2017
Society Oxted Operatic Society
Venue The Barn Theatre, Oxted
Type of Production Musical
Director Paul Robinson
Musical Director Robert Randall
Choreographer Beth Hinton

Report

Author: Jon Fox

This legendary show, so well loved and often performed, still draws eager audiences over fifty years since it was a smash hit on Broadway in 1964. Now, in this fast changing 21st century, its central message of the Jewish faith, unwanted change and love of home, family and tradition is perhaps more relevant than ever before.  

To stage this mighty show on the amateur stage, however, remains a huge challenge;  the need to compete with the many splendid and memorable productions that have gone before and to do full justice to one of the most sparkling jewels of a show in the history of musical theatre is daunting indeed. Moreover, though delightful, the Barn Theatre is not blessed with a spacious stage.    

I must say right here that OOS overcame the challenge in magnificent style.   What was there not to like? Certainly not the gripping script!  Certainly not the magnetic music which enriches the soul.  And certainly not the whole of this compelling production!

The titanic lead role of Tevye demands a paragon to play him.   Mike Mackenzie, that very paragon, did not so much play as inhabit Tevye. In fact I did not see Mike at all, I saw only Tevye, the loving, decent, scheming, frustrated, dominating, dominated, brave, but ultimately realistic, sad and intensely human Tevye.   As the residents of Anatevka were forced to leave their homes and land, Tevye still at the head of the household, but without a home, led his wife and two youngest daughters into an unwanted new existence in America.                                 

Nurturing the whole family, loving, arguing with and being Tevye's beloved wife, Nicki Lewis played Golde to perfection. Their marriage, home and daughters were the foundations upon which this production was built.  The spirited, girlish and excited three eldest daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava were given engaging life by Penny Parker, Catherine Blundell and Shannen Knutsen respectively.   All had lovely singing voices, truthful acting and were gifted dancers, as amply proven in the amusing and engaging Matchmaker.  The  Jewish homes even in 1905 were effectively run by the wives - "Golde!  What do I tell Golde?  Another dream?" - sheer perfection.

Lazar Wolf, the older, tubby  but rich butcher fancied Tzeitel, but Tzeitel fancied, indeed loved, only Motel, the timid, penniless but hard working tailor and Motel - the boyish and well cast Stephen Fanis - ultimately spoke "like a man" to clinch his love from Lazar's unwanted grasp.  

In one of the more iconic scenes in musical theatre,  the spectacular "dream" that Tevye concocted to fool Golde and obtain her permission to bless the Tzeitel / Motel marriage was superbly set, passionately enacted by all and thrilling to see and hear. Sarah Morrison as Fruma-Sarah, Lazar's first wife, seemingly suspended in mid-air frightened the wits out of all (but Tevye). A real tour de force of a scene and especially by Sarah. Stephanie Hornett Johnson aged up convincingly as Grandma Tzeitel, singing nicely.

Chrissie White was the engaging, forgetful but most authentic matchmaker Yente, her sheer humanity and vital role in the traditional way of Jewish life made all the more real in Chrissie's skilful hands.

I also much liked Paul Hyde as the lonely, argumentative and achingly real Lazar Wolf. The Inn scene and "To Life" was a show highlight carried out by all on stage.

Perchik, the student revolutionary, who entered hungry, but nobly refusing, until pressed, Tevye's proffered piece of cheese as he could not pay for it, brought the first whiff of real danger to the old traditions. Tom Gardner as Perchik played this important role with innate authority and keen sense of self-sacrifice to duty.  

Matthew Stone as the Russian soldier Fyedka who loved and secretly married "Little Bird, Little Chavaleh", the third daughter - which was a step too far for Tevye, who shunned her - brought a noble quality to the role;  their final farewell being heartbreakingly sad.        

Among the smaller roles David Morgan's brought a distinct and amusing individuality to the Rabbi. Colin White was a believable Russian Constable forced into disrupting the marriage of Perchik and Hodel and eventually ejecting the Jewish villagers from Anatevka.           

James Saunders was an impoverished and cheeky beggar, Nachum, demanding his usual two Kopeks; Benjamin Eldridge as Mendel, son of the Rabbi, showed a nice line in disdain towards Perchik and his revolution;  Sean Eldridge was the amiable innkeeper, Mordcha, friend to Tevye;  Richard Seagroatt played Avram, the bookseller, keeping the village abreast of news in eager fashion;  Madeleine Eldridge and Olivia Francis as Shprintze and Bielke, the two youngest daughters, also did well; a special mention to The Fiddler, a real fiddler too, which was a major plus to the production and used so well by the director throughout. Talented Connie Price, aged only fourteen who was that same fiddler, will long remember this show and her role, as will others.

Other small principal roles all played their full part and added much to the overall success of the show: Lewis Greenwood, Robert Medhurst and Joe Fuller as Boris, Sacha and Vladimir, Fyedka's Russian soldier friends;  Steve Cox, the Town Hatter, Yussel;   Emma Denny as Shaindel, Mother of Motel.

Musically, the production was in the accomplished hands of  Musical Director Robert Randall on keyboard who, together with his eleven strong orchestra, showcased a wonderfully controlled use of dynamics, never overpowering the singers, whilst always fully supporting.   "Fiddler" has many of the most glorious songs in musical theatre and when accompanied and sung to this standard, the spine was busily  tingling throughout the evening.   Unusually, I heard every syllable of every song, a rare feat indeed.

Director Paul Robinson's inspirational use of mood changes and interplay of characters and use of the auditorium for entrances and exits - allied to skilful and swift set changes by stage manager Bruce Reed and his five strong crew - ensured the evening and story never flagged.   In fact the evening went by before one could draw breath, as all great occasions always do!

Beth Hinton's choreography ensured well rehearsed and spirited routines with skilful promotion of the better dancers (especially the daughters) and the always difficult Bottle dance, done with aplomb.    Perchik ensured that men actually danced with women (shock - horror!) at the wedding, but Beth's inspiration ensured the high standard achieved.

The family house of wood was dominant in the various sets and, again, used to its utmost effect.   A word of praise therefore for set designer Jill "Wigs" Wilson and the construction team. Other sets were simple but highly effective.

Lighting and sound were key factors in the success and I must highlight especially the amazing effects LX and SX in "The Dream".  Lighting design / operation by Carolyn Rowley with follow spots by Sue Marr and Angela Muscio, plus, on sound, the ubiquitous John Chinnock (whom I continuously bump into in Surrey shows!).

Wardrobe was on the whole well handled too with mostly realistic "poor" peoples costumes, well fitted. However, a bright crimson red blouse for Hodel and some of the greens were not right for that period.  Karen Ingham and Carol Moss  were on wardrobe.

Stephanie Hornett Johnson, as ever (and who better!) worked her usual magic on modern hairstyles and make-up to seemingly turn back the years.   Growing real beards helped greatly, chaps!

A word for the programme containing comprehensive director's notes, a thought provoking poem  "Refugees" and cast  pictures showing how much fun was had in rehearsals.

Thanks for the fun OOS.   Your real team performance was our intense enjoyment.   Oh, and congratulations!