Houston Family Arts Center Does Well By Fiddler on the Roof

Categories: Stage

Fiddler.jpg
Photo courtesy of HFAC
Paul Wilkinson as Yussel and Jeffrey Baldwin as Tevye in Fidder on the Roof, at The Berry Center
The set-up:

Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964 to acclaim, running for 3,242 performances and holding for a decade the title of longest-running B'way show. It won nine Tony awards, including best actor in a musical for Zero Mostel, playing Tevye, the lead. Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, it portrays the life of a Jewish dairy farmer in Russia, who has five daughters. HFAC (The Houston Family Arts Center) now presents it in the 456-seat auditorium at the Berry Center.

The execution:

HFAC has done well to use the large theater at The Berry Center, which it has done in the past, as it provides a huge stage, desirable to contain the sweep of this musical work, which is epic. Set in 1905 in Anetevka, a small Russian village, it chronicles a family, a village, and, in its ending, a country. This production is brilliant because it captures the epic sweep, using 64 actors, but also because it captures the humanity, and the love, sometimes contentious, that infused the community.

There are two especial heroes in a regiment of talent: the director, Ilich Guardiola, who has marshaled hordes of skilled actors into a cohesive whole, and the actor playing Tevye, Jeffrey Baldwin, who strikes just the right note, whether arguing with his wife (she usually wins), or reminding God that it wouldn't hurt to send a little money his way. He reveres tradition, but bends with the times, and usually says "Yes" to his daughters after several "No's". Tevye is one of the great characters in fiction, and Baldwin does him justice.

Nora Hahn as his wife Golde has a less flashy role, but her matriarchal strength and family love emerge from under the stern demeanor the script calls for - she is excellent.
The Fiddler (Erik Olmos Tristan), whether on the roof or in a festive crowd, has a sprightly manner, amusing body language, and silent charm. The marriage-age daughters, and their suitors, are all excellent: Tzeitel (Lindsay Sloan) and Motel the tailor (Nathan Crooks), Hodel (Ragan Richardson) and the Marxist scholar Perchik (Blake Jackson), Chava (Maddie Dennison) and the Russian youth Fyedka (Deion Galindo).

David Armstrong is authentic and wonderful as Lazar Wolf, the well-to-do butcher, and Cecil Davis is warm and amusing as an elderly rabbi a little out of his depth. Sheryl Rade as the matchmaker Yente gives a powerful, insistent performance.

The music, as I'm sure you know, is superb: "Tradition", "Matchmaker, Matchmaker", "If I Were a Rich Man", "Sunrise, Sunset", among many others. Baldwin's resonant voice delivers the songs with the wit and the humor required - one of Tevye' great assets is a wry, ironic sense-of-humor, and gentle heart that even forgives God's neglect. Baldwin's performance is delightful, insightful, intelligent, and, yes, brilliant. I found it flawless.

There is great deal of wonderful group dancing, choreography by Luke Hamilton, showing off the appropriate and colorful costumes designed by Lisa Garza. The dream sequence is fascinating, and a triumph of stagecraft. The lighting by Ron Putterman is excellent, and adds an intriguing haunting ambience to the fiddler when on the roof. The excellent musical direction is by Michael Moses. The music is pre-recorded, no orchestra, but HFAC has given us nonetheless a stunning production, and the recorded music works well.

This beautiful production, of course owes much to the powerful quality of the material: the book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, original production designed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and produced by Harold Prince - a pantheon of great theatrical talent. And, yes, they all won Tony awards for their contribution to Fiddler. This is a truly great production, standing on the shoulders of giants.

The verdict:

An entertaining production captures all the brilliance, warmth, humor, charm, and compelling music of a show-business masterpiece, directed with authority and skill by Ilich Guardiola, with a superb performance by Jeffrey Baldwin as Tevye.

Fiddler on the Roof continues through July 28, from HFAC (Houston Family Arts Center) at Berry Center, 8877 Barker Cypress Rd. For information or ticketing, call 281-685-6374 or contact www.houstonfac.com.

Location Info

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Berry Center

8877 Barker Cypress Road, Cypress, TX

Category: General

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2 comments
ttraviki
ttraviki

I must disagree with this review and with sk8abit.

Baytown Little Theater’s production of Fiddler on the Roof performed in conjunction with Lee College and the Baytown Symphony Orchestra opened July 26, 2013 at the Lee College Performing Arts Center and ran two consecutive weekends with two Sunday matinees.As an avid theater goer, I must say that this production was one of the best I’ve seen in many years and could of easily been worthy of a venue at downtown Houston’s Jones Hall. Richard Shutic’s portrayal of Tevye was equal if not better then Topol and Amy-Miller Martin as Golda was every bit as enjoyable as Mr. Shutic’s performance. They were a perfect blend.The minute the curtain opened and the Fiddler (Lauren Gainer) started playing, yes actually playing the familiar theme song, leading into “Tradition” with an Ensemble that just blew me away, the audience was captivated right up to the final curtain.

The three older daughters, Lavalea Partsch as Tzeitel, Chelsee Jernigan as Hodel and Lauren Whitley as Chava, performed “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” flawlessly. Katie Reed as Yenta the matchmaker was perfect.“If I Were A Rich Man” sung in a rich baritone voice by Mr. Shutic was riveting.

Tevye soon meets the towns butcher Lazar Wolfe (Mike Tuneberg) at Lazars request inside the Inn to arrange a marriage unbeknownst to Tevye between Lazar and Tzeitel. Tevye and Lazar eventually make an agreement and an energetic “To Life” is sung as an all and all out drunken brawl between the Russians and village men takes place.Meanwhile, Tzeitel and Motel the Tailor (Samuel Estrada) have made a pledge of their own. Tevye, now told Tzeitel and Golde about the agreement but soon becomes disheartened by the pledge between Tzeitel and Motel but grants his permission anyway. With Golda not knowing of the pledge between Tzeitel and Motel, now Tevye must convince Golda that Tzeitel will marry Motel and not Lazar and he does so by making up a dream in a spell binding “The Dream” sequence that was just astounding.

Setting up the wedding scene between Motel and Tzeitel was the awe-inspiring “Sunrise, Sunset” sung beautifully by Mr. Shutic and Miss Martin followed up by a powerful Ensemble.The choreography in the wedding scene was masterfully done. There were nine bottle dancers and the bottles were balanced beautifully, not taped. Impressive! When all was said and done the drama of the Russians and the Constable’s (Kim Martin) interruption and upheaval of the wedding took my breath away.

The second act opens and now Tevye is faced with his second daughter Hodel wanting to become engaged to Perchik (Kenneth Haney) who with a stupendous tenor voice sings “Now I Have Everything”.Again, breaking tradition, Tevye breaks down and gives his blessing and permission. Tevye must tell Golda but now questions his own pre-arranged marriage and only after convincing Golde to allow Perchik and Hodel to become engaged, they sing “Do You Love Me” with great tenderness and affection.

The play takes an emotional turn when Hodel leaves home to be with Perchik. Tevye and Hodel say good-bye at the train station as Miss Jernigan sings a heartfelt “Far From the Home I Love”. The scene was performed with all the emotions you would expect and left many in the audience wiping a tear from their eye (men too), when Tevye looks up to God and says, “Take care of her. See that she dresses warm” with a crack in his voice.

Continuing with the emotion, now Chava says she wants to marry Fyedka (Ryan Martin) which Tevye forbids. Against his demand, Chava marries Fyedka anyway and the scene that follows tears your heart out as Tevye denies his daughter, Tevye leaves shouting no as Chave is down on her knees crying and begging him to accept them. It never happens.

Being advised by the Constable that everyone must leave their village of Anatevka that they are being forced out, Tevye breaks any trust that he had with him. The Ensemble sings “Anatevka” as the villagers prepare to leave.

In the final scene, the family is packed and ready to leave, Fyedka and Chava give one more attempt to gain Tevye’s approval. As they say their good-byes, without looking at them he says “God be with you”.As the family leaves, Tevye is pulling the cart, the Fiddler and Tevye are the only ones left on stage.The Fiddler starts to play the familiar theme song.Tevye stops, looks back, nods for the fiddler to follow. The Fiddler shrugs and starts to follow as the curtain closes. A thunderous applause and standing ovation where well deserved. The audience walked away with nothing but praises and an enjoyable evening of entertainment at its best.

The Musical was directed by Jim Wadzinski and with all the obvious talent he had, the stunning backdrops, scenery and a live orchestra conducted by Dennis Eichler, no wonder this was a breathtaking production. I don’t believe any live theater can ever perform the perfect show, but if there is one, this was it. The only disappointment was that I never saw a review in any of the papers for this show. This cast and crew are deserving of one and this is why I wrote this commentary.I recently saw other production of Fiddler on the Roof here in Houston but a friend of mine convinced me to attend Baytown Little Theater’s production, and I’m glad I did. There is no comparison. The Houston vicinity deserves to know about this theater and (in my opinion) an award winning performance by all.

Bravo Baytown Little Theater, Bravo!

T. Traviki

sk8abit
sk8abit

Their Fruma Sarah was AMAZING!!!! That was definitely the highlight of the show for me...the make up, the costumes, it was stunning!~

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