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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Review: A fine evocation of shtetl life in Richmond Hill production of Fiddler on the Roof

By Open Submission on November 23, 2012

The fine cast of Fiddler on the Roof returns to the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts stage for performances on Saturday and Sunday (Richard L. Hess photo).

Steppin’ Out Productions Fiddler on the Roof opened Thursday night for a five-performance run at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

There are additional performances Friday night, Saturday matinee and night, and Sunday matinee. This production presented an interesting adaptation of the music and used imagination and lighting to effectively convey the feeling of rural Tsarist Russia in the early part of the 20th century.

The original production with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein opened on Broadway in 1964 and was the first musical to exceed a run of 3,000 performances. It was made into a successful film in 1971. The inspiration for the story came from the writings of Sholem Aleichem and the fiddler concept came from a painting by Marc Chagall.

The protagonist, Tevye (excellently portrayed by Gord Peters), is a poor milkman in the fictional resettlement village of Anatevka in the Pale of Settlement which was the only area where Jews could have permanent residences at the time. Tevye has a strong faith in God and has one-way conversations with God throughout the play. The internal conflict revolves around Tevye’s three eldest daughters choosing their own husbands rather than their father arranging their marriages. The external conflict is with Tsarist Russia.

Brian Lee, in an extensive Director’s Note in the program writes:

This production of Fiddler on the Roof aims to bring to life a lost society and the real people who once inhabited the shtetls. The beauty of these communities is that everyone helped each other. The very nature of the shtetls was charitable; no one spent a Sabbath outside; no one went without shelter. My goal in this production of Fiddler was to bring to life an authentic feeling of shtetl life. I am thrilled that we were able to import new, klezmer-infused orchestrations that have never been heard in North America.

Krisanne Langille provided a superb interpretation of the sharp-tongued Golde (Tevye’s wife). Alisse Lee-Goldenberg, Kaitlin Lane, and Lauren Wolanski were all excellent as Tevye’s three eldest daughters, Teitel, Hodel, and Chava, respectively.

The costumes by Hollywood Costumes were totally believable, the lighting design by Patrick Lavender was exciting but not intrusive, and the sound by Robin Johnston was clear, well-mixed, and an overall effort that this sound geek could only praise. All the leads had wireless headworn microphones, but these were tastefully mixed in the ensemble pieces.

There were one or two less-strong performances among the remainder of the cast, but it’s not worth mentioning names as the overall project was very well done and the fact that the cast came from a wide range of experience levels was almost never obvious.

Beckie Saslove’s choreography was powerful and exciting. While I am convinced that the bottle dancers attached the bottles to their hats with glue or Velcro, Charles Bullingham, Jonah Mazer, Angel Mena, and Ezra Sherman should be congratulated for a spectacular effort. Aleh Remezau excelled as musical director and is an artist to watch. He is currently a student at U of T.

Last, but not least, is The Fiddler, Sonia Shklarov.

She was born in Moscow and has lived in Israel, Calgary, and Pittsburgh. In Fiddler, she does start out on the roof. Interestingly, she makes the transition between the orchestra (actually located at the rear of the stage, not in the pit) and an active participant in the story. When she is playing solo, it appears that we are listening to her acoustic violin without amplification which increases the charm of the production. She is active in both klezmer and classical music.

If you have the opportunity to catch one of the remaining performances, I would strongly recommend it. I was moved to write this review because I thought the production deserves it. It is quite excellent. I have no connection with the theatre group and this is my first review for Musical Toronto.

Here is further reading about the show and its background and general history of the area and time:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiddler_on_the_Roof
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sholem_Aleichem
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Chagall
http://www.jewish-theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=3438
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_of_Settlement
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtetl

Richard L Hess
Aurora, Ontario   www.richardhess.com/tape/

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