Matt Stodolak, Music Director, conducts his orchestra from upstage centre, his well–rehearsed and disciplined musicians in sight throughout the play. We absorb this feature readily enough. It becomes part of the scenery. Several of the instrumentalists take part in the action from time to time (notably the talented Adam Despinic, the eponymous “Fiddler on the Roof”). It’s Stodolak himself, however, with whom we connect. He faces us; he expresses the music with his eyes, with his knowing smile while conducting with economy of grace. His musicianship must be somehow implanted in the performers as rarely were they able to watch him. The total musicality of this MTT production is astonishing. Quite.
Such kudos must be shared with the Director, Sarah Granger who, with Stodolak, Choreographer Rebekah Houpt and Vocal Director Jill Kooyman, masterminded the whole. They stirred us frequently to spontaneous applause by breathtaking moments of singing, dancing, and staging.
Safe, I hope, to venture that of the 22 actors, 10 musicians, and the full production team of over 25 persons, not one looked to be over twenty–five. What does a Director do when a character is 50 or 70 and the talent bank is all undergrads in the third decade of life tops? Granger has just gone with it and has made it work for the most part. (And while on this subject, a bow here to Brittany Rose and EmilyTaub for some skilled make–up effects!) Acting helps. Granger’s cast is actors who are trained, or training to be, actors. Making oneself older is a melding of physical technique and artistic temperament. Feeling old (or young for that matter) for an actor is a skill, a craft, of believing. The eyes will know and will tell. Concetta Roche as “Golde”, mother of five, the oldest a daughter of marriageable age, gave us a middle–age matriarch with minimal make–up and maximum truth. As the ageing matchmaker “Yente”, Lauren Tignanelli used physical decline and delightful speech and timing to achieve her seniority. Charles Wallace as “Lazar Wolf” added 20 years by stance, voice, and discreet imitative craft to become the 40–ish self–made man he needed to be. In other examples, costume and disguise can be effective, as in the scene stealing performances of Dana Swarbick and Laura Jantzen as “Grandma Tzeitel” and “Fruma Sarah” respectively. In a brave debut performance James Daryl Lopez found his way through some heavy make–up to deliver an effective ineffective elderly “Rabbi”.
Tevye. Everything rests on Jordan Hallin as Tevya, the Milkman, to make this classic Sholem Aleichem story of a man singled out by God for some reason to test, to stand up to, the tide of change. It’s 1905 in Russia. The Tzar rules, a mortal threat to the tiny Jewish village of Anatevka, whose sincere prayer is that God will keep him far away from them. I’ve seen Hallin’s work in Mac theatre, first as interesting supporting actor in Twelfth Night, and the same later in Chris Vergara’s impressive Medea. He’s been grooming himself for a big role. Recently, as a principal, he was a philandering husband in Brian Morton’s La Ronde and I noted that he had the gift of confidence and ease of delivery that wins admiration. Is Tevye the big role? Is the confidence and ease of delivery in his work enough to carry Tevye? Hallin, I believe, knows he’s no Topol or Zero Mostel, and there’s only one way for him be Tevye. Be confident and deliver. Yes, it’s exactly what works. From the opening “Tradition”, as splendid a company production as you’ll see in local theatre, and through the plot and its determined episodes that challenge everything that he holds to be ‘traditional’, he never lets us down. He sings and acts with gusto. “If I were a Rich Man” is as self–indulgent as he gets, but his duet with Golde, “Do You Love Me?” as the second act is ending, is uncompromisingly Tevye’s reward for his bearing his long bickering with God; a genuine expression of ‘old love’.
So much to commend this event, dear readers. Taha Arshad’s “Motel the Tailor” is a jewel of sincerity, as is a polished gem from Jessica Lass playing oldest daughter Tzeitel. Arshad’s “Miracle of Miracles” was joyous. How splendid a paring of actors as the magnetic Davin Babulai and Claudia Spadafora, electric together as “Perchik” and “Hodel; in “Now I Have Everything” they make sparks. Michael Bredin’s solemn “Fyedka” and the beautifully named Morgan St. Onge as “Chava” perfectly foresee doom to tradition, two unlikely characters well captured. Some sensational dancing lifts us up. The Bottle Dance is spine–tingling and the Trepak exhilarating. I was impressed with the outstanding work of dancer David Anzarouth, elegant and skilled, a natural grace. Eddie Lawlor’s “Constable” admirably restrains official authority. The rest of the supporting roles all deserve mention, but space is limited. Readers, best you get out to Mac and see for yourselves this fine, simply crafted, minimalist production of a musical classic. V
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Until March 1
Presented by McMaster Musical Theatre
@ Robinson Memorial Hall,