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Fiddler on the Roof as presented by Ballywillan Drama Group

Fiddler on the Roof as presented by Ballywillan Drama Group: 

Monday 29th April 2024. 

I whole-heartedly applaud the effort of Director, Brian Logan, to draw the obvious parallel between this historical story and the current plight of the Ukrainian people. This was done particularly well with the “History Repeats Itself” section of the show program, but also with a pre-prologue voice over and sound effects of an on-going war. A soldier entered from the audience, looking to the sky as planes flew overhead, and as the sounds faded, he removed his camouflage coat and ambled into his prologue as Tevye. Different and imaginative. With one of the best written books for a musical, combined with beautiful authentic music that encapsulates the time and place of the setting, Fiddler on the Roof has long been one of my favourite musicals. It’s a story of fortitude and stoicism amid the most awful adversity, but also a story of family, of love and of religious passion, with all its positive and its negative implications. The simplicity of viewing all of life through the eyes of one humble milkman is the touch of genius that makes the whole package work so brilliantly. 

The show had good pace that was interrupted only by slightly laboured scene changes, sometimes with what seemed like unnecessary movement of some pieces. While the set for the show had a good rustic feel about it, there were occasions when the moving pieces seemed a little abstract. It was nicely constructed and well-painted though. There seemed to be a lot of Americanization of accents during the show, possibly following that annoying aspect of the movie version, but many characters maintained their Eastern European accents better than others. There were also occasions when comedy was lost, for example, the joke of ‘the new arrival at Motel and Tzeitel’s’ lost its impact because the sewing machine was clear to see from the start of the scene. 

Musically, the show was very solid indeed, due in part to a fine orchestra, led by Musical Director, Andrew Robinson, who appreciated the feel and rhythm of the traditional Jewish style of music that permeates this score. The Fiddle playing throughout was very good indeed. Andrew also ensured that the orchestra were well-balanced with the vocals from a disciplined chorus and the strongly reliable principal singers. In Sabbath Prayer and Sunrise Sunset, in particular, the harmonies were rich and delightful. The tricky Nightmare number was also very well performed. 

Choreographers Sharon Logan and Laura Fisher got the showoff to a good start with a nicely drilled display of patterns and movement for “Tradition.” There was good movement too in the “To Life” number, and their Russian soldiers made a good attempt at some difficult steps. The wedding was a lot of fun, but I’d prefer to see an attempt at an authentic bottle dance with real bottles. The “Matchmaker” number and the “Chavalet” ballet were nicely designed and executed. 

The mammoth role of Tevye was played by Alan McClarty, with many moments of strong emotion and pathos, particularly in Act Two, when he struggled with losing Hodel and then Chava. These were his best scenes. I was a little distracted by his accent, which fluctuated between the expected Russian slant and some very American-sounding passages, and on one or two occasions, his dialogue was a little rushed. Particularly in his monologues to God, perhaps a slightly more pensive or undecided hesitancy might have been appropriate. I’m 

delighted to say that my favourite pieces in the show, “Chavalet” and “Do You Love Me” were beautifully handled. He also gave a good robust performance of “If I Were A Rich Man.” It was a lovely touch, too, that he collected his camouflage jacket and took it with him as he left Anatevka. 

Úna Culkin’s Golde was delightfully abrupt and impatient with her family members, beautifully tolerant of her encounters with Yente, and her distress at losing her daughter was very palpable. This was a very nicely played role, with good vocal quality and fine emotions. Olive Hemphill made a very convincing Yente, nicely befuddled in trying to impart her news, looking, and acting just right, and despite forgetting a line or two, she maintained her character very well throughout. 

Paul Sleet was a gentle and amiable Lazar Wolf in his first encounter with Tevye but showed a good more aggrieved countenance during the wedding scene. He sang well beside Alan in the “Too Life” number. 

Clare Campbell was a lovely Tzeitel, particularly in her acting when her father tried to force her to marry Lazar. There was a good genuine bond between herself and Motel, and she sang delightfully, albeit with, again, an American twang. 

Patrick Connor gave a nice light comedic portrayal of Motel the Tailor, scared of his own shadow, but somehow summoning up the courage to stand up to Tevye when the chips were down. His “Miracle of Miracles” was abundant with joy, and he sustained his character beautifully throughout the show. 

Megan Paul was a sincere and impetuous Hodel, quick to challenge the attitudes of Perchik, but susceptible enough to be moved by his authenticity. She played her relationship with her father very well, and “Far From The Home I Love” was nicely delivered. Adam Goudy was a spirited and forthright Perchik, full of idealism yet open to change. This was played at just the right level, making him likeable to Hodel and earning the respect of Tevye. “Now I Have Everything” was sung with sincerity. 

Chloe Freeman-Wallace played young Chava with assurance and vulnerability, handling her relationship with Fyedka with caution but caring. Her passionate pleading to her father was a most touching scene. 

Steven Millar was a respectful Fyedka, gentle in his approaches to Chava, and cautious in crossing her father, yet strong when he needed to be. Nicely played. 

As the town busy-body, Tom Waddell was a convincing Avram, while Jim Everett had good self-importance as innkeeper, Mordcha. David McDowell was suitably pompous and uppity as Mendel, the Rabbi’s son, and Harry Stinson was a suitably dithery Rabbi. There was a condescending tone about Greg Edwards as the Constable, but his character has more depth if he shows more reluctance about the pogrom that disrupts the wedding. Richard Campbell looked well and played extremely well as The Fiddler. There were very good cameo performances by Vicky Hogg as Grandma Tzeitel, and Kellyann McKillen sang splendidly in a fine and original representation of Fruma Sara. Lesley Reynolds as Shandel, Adam Campbell as Nachum and Steve Setterfield as Sasha all contributed well to the overall performance. 

Sphrintze and Bielke were delightfully played by Ela Richards and Sophie O’Neill, with nice character and good clear voices. 

Perhaps the Chorus could have been a little more challenged in their dancing, but they performed all that was asked of them with good confidence. Their reactions to the drama around them was good and vocally, they were very secure. “Sabbath Prayer,” “Sunrise Sunset” and “Anatevka” were all very easy on the ear. 

There was good attention to detail in the costuming of the show, prayer shawls in place and heads covered as one would expect. Russian outfits were good too, and the principal characters all seemed to be appropriately attired to suit their individuality. There was good work done on beards, etc., and make-up was perfectly fine, with nice attention to Grandma Tzeitel and a good novel approach to the presentation of Fruma Sara. Props and stage dressing were good throughout. Likewise, the lighting was generally quite good, providing atmosphere for many scenes and more often than not effectively highlighting the main action.

The crew, under stage manager, David Wray, sometimes seemed uncertain of where each piece was to be positioned, but they went about their task with decent efficiency. The sound for the show was very satisfactory. 

My thanks to all involved in the many Ballywillan shows that I have enjoyed over the years, and I wish you good fortune and many wonderful productions in the future.

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