SPRINGVILLE — With songbook titles such as “Sunrise, Sunset,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” and “Tradition,” make Fiddler on the Roof a familiar classic, frequently produced by communities throughout the world. With a beautiful score by Jerry Bock, creative lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and a thought-provoking book by Joseph Stein, the themes of love, religion, family and faith resonate with many communities, particularly in religiously influenced Utah.
The story of Fiddler on the Roof centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters—each one’s choice of husband moves further away from the customs of his faith—and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.
Karl Young as Tevye had an appropriate look for the part of the mild mannered milkman and a nice singing voice. However, there was a lot of missed comedy in his line delivery combined a subdued performance, which made his character largely on one level. This was most noticeable in Tevye’s many monologues where he addresses God and is contemplating a decision. The humor and appeal of these monologues mostly is due to the insights the audience gains into Tevye’s mind as he digs deep into his soul and waffles back and forth on an important decision. Yet I often failed to believe that Young was really talking to someone (whether that was himself or God), and wanted to see a greater struggle throughout these monologues. The character’s signature number, “If I Were A Rich Man,” was another example of this recurring problem where the first of the four verses showed everything that would be revealed about Tevye in this six-minute solo.
But Young’s strongest moments were when he was interacting with Golde, played by Robinne Booth, who gave an entertaining and nuanced performance as Tevye’s headstrong yet supportive wife. The two performers made a believable couple and their relationship was clear and moving. Their duet “Do You Love Me?” was one of the highlights of the production because it was so endearing and sincere. Booth is clearly a talented and experienced actress that held me attention with her large presence and strong voice.
Tevye’s daughters, Tzeitel (played by Joni Newman), Hodel (played by Amber Lee Roberts), and Chava (played by Michelle Squire) each had nice moments individually throughout the production, but I failed to see the sisterly relationship of the three characters, even during their trio “Matchmaker.” However, Newman and Gregory Duffin (playing Motel) made a believable couple in love and the two had good chemistry in their duet “Miracle of Miracles.” Squire made an adorable younger sister Chava, and was most successful in her interactions with Fyedka (played by Isaac Davidson). Though Squire’s departing scene with her father Tevye where she begs him to allow her to marry Fyedka fell flat as the actress failed to convey the emotional stakes of the situation.
Roberts and Nate Warenski as Perchik had the strongest and most developed relationship of the three couples. Warenski had an excellent stage presence and a natural and conversational line delivery that made each scene he was in captivating. Though a few pitch issues were prevalent in their duet “Now I Have Everything,“ it was still one of the strongest songs in the play, and the sincerity of their portrayals compensated for the musical shortcomings. Additionally, Roberts’ emotional performance and clear voice in her solo “Far From the Home I Love” made her departing scene with her father touching and raw.
I generally approved of Bethany Taylor’s choreography. It was created at a level appropriate to the skill level of the actors and helped with the storytelling. The “bottle dance” during the wedding sequence was well done and one of the most memorable aspects of the production. However, the ensemble and group numbers (both dance numbers and scenes with the full cast onstage) were often laced with mugging, overacting, and awkward physicality from the ensemble members. This frequently distracted from the main action or upstaged the lead actors in many of the scenes. Additionally, poor diction in the singing and trepidation in the dance steps made many of the musical numbers not as strong as they could be. Several key plot points were lost or glossed over, particularly the building tension between the Jews and Russians. I wish Booth would have helped the ensemble to focus on the important storytelling aspects of the production and contribute at a level appropriate to the scene they were in. Additionally, inconsistencies in dialects and modern colloquialisms and physicality frequently pulled me out of Anatevka. But in spite of these shortcomings, it was clear the cast was enjoying themselves and having a good time, which contributed to the community spirit that was needed in the production, and in this sense the cast was successful.
The set design (not credited, though the set was constructed by many members of the cast) was well done and at a higher caliber than expected for community productions and helped to establish the appropriate mood and locations within the play. The two-story home of the family made for interesting stage pictures and levels within many of the scenes. Despite the great set design, it was the technical aspects of the show that could use the most improvement. Microphones frequently popped and worked intermittently, the musical tracks frequently overpowered the voices, and the light cues (under the design of Jon Haws) were consistently late (which meant that often actors were in the dark). These mishaps were distracting and weakened many of the scenes and made the production fall short of its full potential.
Residents of Springville and neighboring towns will enjoy this local community theater production of Fiddler on the Roof. However, those outside the community will likely find a closer local theater production (or even another Fiddler among the five being produced in the Salt Lake area this summer) of similar or higher quality. But the $8 ticket price is a fair price for the production, and Fiddler on the Roof has messages that will resonate with local audiences along with a memorable score.