Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fiddler on the Rialto

The cast of Fiddler on the Roof (Rowan University: April, 2010)

Stage left is NOT where the fiddler sat. Number one. The show began as a piece of symmetry with Tevye, a poor milkman on one side of the roof and the fiddler on the other side. One man explained in words of the meaning of this show and the other told it through singular notated music. But this story is not about a fiddler. And it is not a compelling story about Tevye who tries to maintain a Jewish life. This show is about one thing.


Nothing in the history of Rowan University has ever encapsulated theatre filled with such energy. The life that Director Lane Savadove and Music Director Marian Stieber breathed into this new production was fresh, raw, and brilliant. And the magic of this production was beyond palpable. I have only one word for this theatrical event: Dazzling. And thank God this production is not transferring to Broadway, because my bank account would be depleted from buying eight tickets a week. Because I could watch this production every day and it would never get old.

But back to the symmetry. The entire production utilized symmetry in the literal sense of its own characters, and in the implication that this piece is far from being outdated. It may even have something to say about our own lives. The opening sequence was symmetrical, the blocking, the emotions, and the energy were spot on. And the final level of symmetry was Rowan's ability to produce professional live theater and professional live music, all in one production.

After Tevye (played by Kevin Melendez...I'll tell you how he did in a minute) descends from the roof, he introduces us to the Russian shtetl (small town) of Anatevka in 1905. Finally, Tevye breaks into the music by declaring "Tradition" with the entire cast. But ironically, Savadove's direction broke the tradition of this musical and re-imagined the opening number from what once was a primal dance into a panorama of struggling socio-economic Jewish families, all laboring in their thankless jobs for the love of their community. Subtlety was the life of the opening sequence, and the lives of each member of the society.

The musical focuses in on the small village of Anatevka and a milkman Tevye who is confidant in tradition but struggles not to lose his own soul within the loss of tradition in his family. And the only reason that point was made clear was because the role was played by Kevin Melendez.

Melendez stripped away the conventional structure of Tevye and exposed everything he could muster as a performer. His singing seemlessly melded with the rawness of his portrayal of the character.

Tevye's three daughters, Tzeitel (Kerry Baglivio), Hodel (Jenna Kuerzi), and Chava (Jade Froeder) are all in a power struggle against the traditional arrangements of marriages, deciding to abandon the matchmaker and marry for love. This, naturally, is where Tevye begins to struggle, but eventually bend for the marriages of Tzeitel and Hodel. However, Chava's marriage to a non-Jewish Russian official is the breaking point for Tevye and he disowns her, but gives a glimmer of hope to her before the family leaves Anatevka.

The chorus was a powerhouse of choreography and energy, especially the "L'Chaim" sequence in the bar.

Baglivio gave a wonderful performance and Froeder stretched her capabilities with grappling the dynamics of her roles. Kuerzi gave a flawless flow from acting into singing without overplaying the character as often is seen in many musicals. Her work was honest and genuine, especially in "Far From The Home I Love"

Andrew Clotworthy played a difficult middle-aged single man searching for new love. I must apologize to Clotworthy because in my past reviews of work at Rowan, I have not given credit where credit is due. And credit is due to Mr. Clotworthy. The inner sadness that Clotworthy's Lazar Wolf experiences came across vibrantly, his work in Fools last season was hysterical (a show that was senselessly reviewed by another writer...I thought that show was awesome), and his work in Our Country's Good was stunning. He and Melendez have developed a rapport of fresh talent.

Tevye's wife, Golde (Rachel Bauer) was brash and true, culminating in an enlightening view of household women in Russia. Especially nice were her moments in "Do You Love Me?"

Let's also not forget the unforgettable performances of Chris Bratek as Perchick who gave a strong portrayal of a young man in search of himself and his own rebellion, along with the always great A.J. Mendini, playing a very gentle Motel who heartwarmingly sees the innocent beauty of live.

The technicality of the production was a blessing for Rowan's vast departments. The balance of sound, the orchestra, and the phenomenal lighting (especially with the stars) all lent life into the production.

As a graduating senior (this May) I want to thank the Rowan Theater and Music Department for letting me review your work over the past two years. I have the utmost respect for each and every one of you. You all really went out this year on a bang. Keep doing what you do, because your productions are Rowan's greatest TRADITION!

-Jim Cook Jr.

p.s. When Fruma-Sarah began to come out of the bed I really started thinking 'oh no, they're going to do the "Wicked" thing' but don't worry. I've seen Wicked. Yours was not only better, but it was the coolest thing I've ever seen done on a stage. True story.

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