Senior School Musical Production Review: Fiddler on the Roof
29 February – 2 March, 2012 in Centenary Hall
To honour or reject tradition? This tension lies at the heart of the tale of Tevye and the villagers of Anatevka, but it can also trouble school productions of musical theatre classics such as Fiddler on the Roof. The temptation can be to topple expectations by updating or reimagining, and this sometimes works well. There is something eminently classy, however, about embracing and championing the fine conventions of a gem from the Broadway canon and offering an outstanding traditional interpretation. It takes real skill and commitment to pull off, but all those involved in Culford’s Fiddler achieved just this.
The sunrise and sunset shades village life in 1905 Russia were conveyed really effectively. Directors Max Mason and Miss Maria Kane contrasted the happy-go-lucky humour and poignant conflict cleverly, but their work was enhanced by a cast who all possessed the theatrical intelligence to inhabit characters convincingly over the course of a lengthy show. Their energy was admirable and the vulnerability of Anatevka’s Jewish community was nowhere evident among the forty-three performers’ stagecraft. Like the Fiddler, they stood tall to provide uplifting and confident entertainment. Among superb performances too numerous to mention, Matt Hughes (Tevye) and Lucy Mason (Golde) stood out. Their touching duet ‘Do You Love Me?’, during which the audience remained absolutely rapt, was one of the evening’s highlights.
Under the leadership of Musical Director James Recknell, the singing was excellent. Not only did the cast achieve a tonal quality appropriate for the piece, they also sang melodically and in tune. The togetherness of the ensemble numbers was particularly noticeable, as was the ability of the principals and chorus to ‘perform’ numbers, rather than simply singing them at the audience. A case in point was the astonishing rendition of ‘Tevye’s Dream’. An accomplished band included several pupil instrumentalists and an evocative accordion (Jane Ward). They, and the cast, were supported enormously by the improved audio system and slick technical production.
The acting and singing were, then, strong but there is a saying in musical theatre that, to be a true ‘triple threat’, you have to be able to dance. Under the expert eye of Choreographer Heidi Stubbings, the pupils involved in Fiddler offered a far more fully danced show than any in recent memory. Their wholeheartedness, precision and exuberance provided a visual feast and drew great acclaim from those fortunate enough to see each performance. The wedding sequence and ‘Bottle Dance’ will undoubtedly live long in the memory, so polished and full of chutzpah were they.
At the show’s end, amidst uncertainty and pathos, Tevye and the villagers are forced to leave the home they – in some respects – love. Tevye’s daughters Hodel, Tzeitel and Chava have already, in different ways, distanced themselves from their traditions and family. Culford’s version of Jerry Bock’s tragi-comic masterpiece, however, stayed close to its Broadway roots, providing a rich, creative and accomplished celebration of the classic musical. Like Hodel and Perchik, this ‘triple threat’ of a production did indeed seem to have everything.