Fiddler on the Roof reviews

Musical is fit as a fiddle
Rod McPhee, Yorkshire Evening Post and The Metro
13 April 2010

It may seem like a slightly obscure show to choose for a revival, but it's only after viewing Fiddler on the Roof with fresh eyes that you realise just how good a musical it really is.

Aside from the songs we all know – like Tradition, If I were a Rich Man and Matchmaker, Matchmaker – it's also a moving love story, even if it's set against the turbulent backdrop of cruel Russian Anti-Semitism.

But its this bittersweet mix which makes Fiddler such a unique production and why Leeds Amateur Operatic Society deserve praise for being ambitious enough to take it on.

And they largely succeed in delivering. There are just a few hiccups along the way – dodgy beards that suddenly spring off faces, a snow machine which makes a noise like an industrial hoover and the odd wobbly accent flicking between Eastern Europe and East Leeds.

But all the key elements are there. The casting is great with Mike Porter brilliant in the lead role as Tevye and Rachel Aston as his eldest daughter Tzeitel who has a superb voice. Special mention should also go to Jake Mitchell who was great as Perchik and the heart-breakingly sweet Chloe Procter as ostracised daughter Chava.

LAOS are perhaps at their best when they perform as an ensemble, with a brilliant harmonious chorus line putting any West End show to shame. Then there's the great choreography which is particularly jaw-dropping when the soldiers give an athletic performance of traditional gravity-defying Russian dancing.

The staging is also impressive. Aside from the aforementioned blips along the way, they've created a very simple but effective system of sets which don't look in any way flimsy or token. All of this and the music is performed live by a small orchestra who do a capable job.

Can you tell it's an amateur production? At some points, yes, there's no denying it. There are cracks in the plaster which are glaringly obvious to anyone familiar with musical theatre, but nothing worthy of derision. What LAOS do is provide a dependable slab of good old fashioned musical entertainment. How refreshing.

I have come to know and love this show…
Val Pennett, Wharfedale and Airedale Observer
13 April 2010

I have come to know and love this show over the years both watching it numerous times and twice being part of the show itself.

The second occasion the production winning the International Festival of Musical Theatre at the Buxton Opera House. An experience not to be forgotten. Fiddler has one of the finest, relevant and movingly written musical scripts and a haunting and vibrant musical score. Musically it is so different and original from any other show. The score is beautifully interwoven with the dialogue and makes a thought provoking whole.

LAOS have a magnificent production here. I am a huge fan of Louise Denison and as Director/Choreographer she has done a fantastic job.

Fiddler is a company show but also needs a cast able to convey with emotional clarity the horrors that befell small Jewish communities around 1905, the start of the Russian Revolution.

Louise moves her players, company and principles alike with such deftness. Wonderful stage pictures and groupings, positioning of principals in dialogue and songs so well observed. Her choreography as usual was a treat. The opening number, ‘Tradition’, cleverly executed and giving the audience a clear picture of life in the small village.

The orchestra of ten, including a mandolin which adds much to the authenticity of the musical sound, was under the direction of Musical Director Jim Lunt.

Scenery was effective, basic and simple. The full company consisted of almost 70 including 22 men. The singing of the stirring music was incredible. Robust at times, yet haunting and beautiful in Sabbath Prayer. A softer interpretation of the heartbreaking Anatevka would have been more poignant.

All the principals were excellent, and at the centre is Tevye, with Mike Porter giving his best performance yet in this demanding role. He brought out the comedy, warmth and torment of Tevye. His singing of ‘If I were a Rich Man’ was powerful and yet he was able to convey the comedy and intensity of the number. A fine performance. Nicola Brook played the role of his wife Golde with more aggression than resigned dignity to her hard life, yet she was able to convey the quieter moments. These two have some delightful scenes, the cleverly written duet ‘Do You Love Me’ with both voices blending, Nicola with some lovely sounding low notes. The dream sequence was so well played by all, and the haunting ‘Sunrise Sunset’ wedding scene.

The three marriageable daughters were outstandingly played by Rachel Aston, Laura Pick and Chloe Procter. There was splendid singing from all three and they were joined in the enjoyable ‘Matchmaker’ by Nicole Farrer and Eden Ottman. Prospective sons-in-law Rob Roe and Jake Mitchell each with fine voices. On the opening night, Fyedka was played by stand in Craig Morton. Christine Castle was effective in the role of Yente, the matchmaker, and Rob Atkinson was an impressive Lazar Wolf. A strong performance came from Glen Boldy as the Constable.

This was great show and a fabulous production. The final moving scene and special effects with falling snow was beautiful and left tears in the eyes and a lump in the throat.

We have been to see…
Colin Trenholme, Calverley Players
13 April 2010

Until they started performing ‘Children's Classics’ for the Christmas period, West Yorkshire Playhouse used to present some first-rate musicals that were enjoyed by all ages: ‘Half A Sixpence’, ‘Some Like It Hot’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ (even I enjoyed their version) were just some of the highlights. Perhaps the most memorable, though was ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in 1992 and, eighteen years later, Leeds Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS), provided their version of Bock and Harnick’s funny and very poignant show.

Calverley Players’ Julie and Glenn Boldy (the Prunella Scales and Timothy West of Pudsey?) were featured in this production: Glenn as the authoritative ‘Constable’ and Julie as a heavily made-up ‘Grandma Tzeitel’ and, as you would expect, both were impressive in their roles. However, this was a splendid ensemble piece throughout as experienced producer Louise Denison is so skilful at directing large casts and is able to create imaginative tableaux that, at the risk of sounding pretentious, are like Breughel pictures, full of character and feeling. Additionally, of course, the dance routines were lively and varied, complementing the storyline admirably and accompanying musical direction by Jim Lunt was equally first-rate.

What made this show particularly successful for me, however, was the quality of acting. We expect good singing from this group; we know that the movement sequences will be fluid and always watchable (at the very least), but when you combine this with solid characterisation, expressive and always audible dialogue from even the youngest members of the cast then you know that you're in for a damn good show – and so it was!

The LAOS ‘Tradition’ continues… their next show will be ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at Leeds Grand later this year.

Change can mean uncertainty
Lisa O'Brien, Wakefield Express
13 April 2010

Change can mean uncertainty and fear of the unknown, and its no different for a Jewish family in Joseph Stein’s Fiddler on the Roof.

It was one of the longest running musicals on Broadway, and the 1971 film won three Academy Awards so Leeds Amateur Operatic Society had some big boots to fill. But the whole cast gave a strong performance on the opening night at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The play is set in a small Jewish settlement in Russia in 1905, with the Russian Revolution just around the corner.  Tevye is a milkman to the people of Anatevka and lives with his wife Golde and five children. The muical begins with the song ‘Tradition’, establishing the basic theme of the story. It is tradition that marriages are arranged by the village matchmaker. But Tevye is torn between his devotion to his religion and his daughters' happiness when they tell him that they wish to marry someone they love. After weighing up the options on both hands, Tevye gives his blessing to his two eldest daughters, yet struggles with his third daughter, Chava, who wants to marry a Russian.

The story deals with the breakdown of family tradition, religious intolerance and ethnic cleansing, but it is balanced with humour and uplifting songs – probably the most famous being ‘If I were a Rich Man’.

Mike Porter stole the spotlight as Tevye, but Rachel Aston as Tzeitel and Christine Castle playing Yente also shone in their roles.

The sets were quite simple, helping with quick scene changes, and were effective. One of the most visual scenes took place when Tevye tried explaining his dream to Golde, telling her that he had been visited by her grandmother. The set becomes very eerie with mist and ghostly looking characters who move the couple’s bed around the stage.

The orchestra were a great accompaniment to the fantastic voices of the cast.

Having thoroughly enjoyed LAOS’s 2008 production of Sweeney Todd, I had high hopes for this musical and it didn’t disappoint.

Gentle twilight was projected
Gwen Li, Dig Yorkshire
13 September 2010

Gentle twilight was projected on to a screen of sky at the back of the stage. The fiddler took his place on the roof of the little farmhouse. A flutter of birdsongs. Orchestral music swelled. We shuffled in our seats and made ourselves comfortable…

Once upon a time in a little Russian village called Anatevka, its tight-knitted Jewish community thought that they were going to live happily ever after. With a set of prayers and traditions for all occasions, everything seemed to be in perfect order and no one gave much thought to the outside world. But in the 1950s Change is starting to take place whether the villagers like it or not. What follows is a poignant story narrated by Tevye the milkman as he struggles to deal with his three eldest daughters’ outrageous decision to marry for love instead of according to customs, while political violence threatens to swallow his neighbourhood. Amidst heartbreaks and confusion, however, a buffet of fine comedy and popular uplifting tunes, including ‘Tradition’, ‘Matchmaker’ and ‘If I Were a Rich Man’, are at hand to ease the tension.

It’s always a bit of a risk for an amateur theatre company to attempt a Tony-award winning musical that has graced the stages of Broadway and the West End, as well as the silver screen, since the 60s. And yet the Leeds Amateur Operatic Society (LAOS) pulled off this production of Fiddler on the Roof with the sort of sophisticated precision and attention to detail that one would expect from professionals. The raffish charm of Anatevka is captured as actors in bright costumes sing and dance within a sepia-toned set, and the dreamy changes of the sky's lighting adds more magic to the atmosphere. Spotlighting is effectively used during Tevye’s monologues, often enhanced by other characters being in freeze frames and a sprinkle of triangles from the orchestra. The most visually impressive aspect of the performance, though, is undoubtedly the highly synchronised choreography. A large group of dancers –- especially one that consists of such a wide age range – is always difficult to manage, but the cast make it all seem natural and simple as they all move in graceful and perfect unity.

Both acting and vocal skills are of a high calibre, and although Tzeitel’s wedding party borders on being a bit too long and Tzeitel’s and Chava’s reunion comes off slightly overdramatic, this is overall a very solid production. The essential theatrical elements are all very well observed and executed, and energy of the actors and enthusiasm of the audience are maintained throughout. Sensual and engaging, this passionate performance of Fiddler reflects both the talents of the actors as well as the delicate emotions of the story. Definitely three hours well spent.

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