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|Sharon Gibson & Fred Helsel (c) Jon Neftali|
Fiddler on the Roof is back in Conejo Valley and this time at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center! I was delighted to be invited to opening night of the SVCAC 20th Anniversary production of Fiddler on the Roof. And what a treat — true community theatre with a very entertaining and enthusiastic cast and orchestra and a heart-warming story for all alike to enjoy.
Leading the cast, Fred Helsel (doubling up as a show producer) donned Tevye’s prayer tassels for the third time (having previously performed at the SVCAC in 2004 & 2006). He was joined by additional third time returning cast members, Kathleen Silverman (Yente) and Seth Kamenow (Motel). They were joined by a large supporting cast that filled the SVCAC stage to capacity and whose voices filled the auditorium with beautiful harmonies on company numbers such as Tradition, Tradition, Sabbath Prayer and Sunrise, Sunset.
Did any particular cast members stand out?
Helsel definitely owned the show. His singing was strong, his presence was powerful – filling the stage with his breadth and height and everything from his comedic one liners to his powerful entreaties to יהוה. You can tell that he knows his stuff and the audience on opening night heartily enjoyed his performance judging by the countless laughs and applause. Additional stand outs were Sharon Gibson as Tevye’s wife, Golde, who’s Do I Love You? and Sabbath Prayer were quite beautiful, Katie Hume with an emotional portrayal as third daughter, Chava, was endearing, Jen Ridgway, had a lyrical soprano that blew the audience away with her gorgeous rendition of Far From the Home I Love, and Seth Kamenow whose performance as Motel the Tailor was well-rounded with great interactions with the rest of the cast (specifically Chava and Fyedka).
What were the weakest moments of the show?
I hate pointing out negatives, especially during a community theatre production, but if one is going to spend $18+ for a ticket, you deserve to know what you’re paying for. While the cast as a whole were strong and entertaining singers, the dancing was a shambles. And the difficulty in reviewing the show is that at parts the dancing was quite charming and well executed, for example during Matchmaker, Matchmaker with the clever use of mops (see photo above) and the famous bottle dance scene. And then there were those cringe-worthy moments when even my show date said that it didn’t look like they practiced much. Ouch. Specifically the weakest moment had to be during my personal favorite number, To Life, when the Russian dancers were out of sync and frankly… cringe-worthy. (I hope that their performances will have been perfected by the second half of the show’s run so do try grabbing a ticket for a later performance.)
When it comes to the acting — while the lead cast all were delightful actors, each in their own right — I had to keep reminding myself that this is classic community theatre where everyone comes together with a mutual love for theatre and the show. Some performers such as Ken Brookes (Lazar Wolfe) hadn’t acted in a good long time, according to their bios, so it really shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when his talking voice is somewhat wooden but his singing voice strong. The absolute weakest performer had to be Eric Lin as Sasha. Yep that is right — an Asian Russian. Heck, I wanted to like him for the very fact that it was a colorblind casting choice. Unfortunately, I could not get past his lackluster and uninspiring performance. Truthfully though it was a very good cast with beautiful harmonies and company numbers were huge hits with the audience.
Kuddos to the Design Team:
Director/Producer David Ralphe made use of the entire stage space and brought out some heartwarming performances from his cast, Becky Castells‘ choreography of Matchmaker, Matchmaker and the Bottle Dance were charming, musical director Maize Wilson led a talented orchestra whose music filled the auditorium without overpowering the singers on stage, Seth Kamenow‘s simplistic yet beautiful sets (especially the mosaic-type doors/walls) perfectly helped we the audience imagine ourselves in Anatevka, and I appreciated costume designer Lori Lee Gordon‘s attention to detail by even outfitting the orchestra with hats for the men and scarves for the women — I just wish Fruma Sarah’s gown was longer to avoid the eye focusing on her (spoiler).
Fiddler on the Roof truly is an entertaining, family-friendly show that will provide everyone with a good night’s out at the theatre. At the end of the day, it is the strong singing and beautiful harmonies that I am left remembering and not the few weaknesses. And like I said, I really think that by the time the cast has several performances under their belts, they will be much better. That is one of the joys of seeing community theatre on opening night – the rawness.
Disclaimer: I had my ticket comped for review purposes but all opinions are my own.