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Fiddler on the Roof as presented by New Ross Musical Society

Fiddler on the Roof as presented by New Ross Musical Society

Date of Adjudicated Performance: Wednesday 6th March, 2024.

I have never made a secret of the fact that, for various reasons, Fiddler on the Roof is one of my all-time favourite musicals, filled as it is with humour, pathos, wonderful music and a story that pulls at the heart-strings. Despite its age, the show is as pertinent today as when it was first written, as it echoes the current climate in Ukraine, and it is easy to feel the depth of the sentiments expressed and the reality of the situations in which Tevye and his family and community find themselves. For me, it is the perfect balance between the sadness of the story, and the humour of those at its centre, that makes this show work so beautifully, and when a Director shows an astute awareness of that need for balance, he or she is moving along a successful path. In the hands of Director, Derek Shannon, this was definitely the case.

He showed great respect for the traditions and the compelling story of Fiddler on the Roof, presenting it in a clean, precise and no-nonsense manner, with characters well-defined and good attention to the set and the costumes. The balance between Tevye’s comedic and chatty relationship with God, and his deference towards his religious obligations, was just about perfect. The show was very nicely cast, and while most principals made a very strong impact, one or two perhaps needed a tad more work on their accents. While most of the drama was very well-realized, I did feel that the pogrom that interrupts Tzeitel’s wedding needed a bit more time to escalate before Perchik was knocked out, a circumstance that was almost missed, as it happened abruptly, and perhaps Tevye should have been given a moment to rush to the aid and protection of his family. That aside, the pace of the show was generally very good.

Technically, the show benefitted from a very effective set, using angular wooden buildings that were beautifully painted and utilized. The interior of Tevye’s home was well-achieved, with great attention to detail, including the obligatory Mezuzah on the doorpost, and kudos to the props team for a wide selection of very appropriate props. I loved the novel approach to Motel’s Tailor Shop, with its moveable flats and rotating door. So simple yet very effective. Indeed, good stage planning enabled the stage team, under, Mark Hayden, to keeping everything running pretty smoothly.

Lighting, including good use of colours, very effectively created atmosphere in most of the scenes, particularly during the Dream and the Wedding, but unfortunately too often atmosphere came at the expense of good key-lighting. Too often, Tevye’s monologues were beautifully back-lit, but his face was almost in shadow and in the Dream, for example, Tevye and Golde needed to be better lit amid the mayhem that dominated the stage. I was left feeling that more precise lighting and less shadow would have added more drama to the highly emotional scenes. With the exception of one or two noticeable late cues, the sound quality was very good throughout the show, and the balance between the pit and the stage was just right.

And talking of the pit, we were treated to a wonderful musical accompaniment to the show from a fine assembly of musicians, under the astute leadership of Musical Director, Jimmy Brockie, who understands that with a show of this length, good pace is essential. When appropriate, he drove the music forward, keeping the livelier numbers rattling along and giving him license to pull back delightfully for the more mellow musical pieces. The work of

Chorus Mistress, Claire Wilson, was very evident, with great tone and harmonies emanating from her chorus, particularly noticeable in the Sabbath Prayer, Sunrise Sunset and Anatevka.

Indeed , the chorus were equally impressive in their acting and reacting to the drama around them, adding ambiance and emotion to the Wedding scene, the Dream and the Rumour. And possibly their biggest achievement was presenting the choreography of Anne Marie Cooney so cleanly on a stage that didn’t offer a great amount of space for so many bodies. Anne

Marie did a great job of presenting ever-changing shapes and patterns in Tradition and the Dream, and in coming up with some energetic and efficient footwork for the bottle dance and the fast-moving To Life number. However, her nicest pieces, visually, were Matchmaker and Chavaleh, where the smaller number of performers gave a chance to see some beautiful movement and dance.

There was a wonderful natural calm about Jonathan Kelly’s performance as Tevye. His frequently gentle, polite and unassuming character only served to enhance those moments when his emotions were heightened into some delightful comedy and some intense drama. I loved his control at having his traditional ideas challenged and managing to find logical reasons to accept change, but there was such sincere anguish in his dealing with the pogroms and the act of Chava betraying her faith. In his singing, also, there was a calm yet compelling quality that made you want to listen. Nothing seemed forced or showy, yet with true vocal quality, all his pieces were most impressive, and while Rich Man is always considered Tevye’s showpiece, it was the warmth and sincerity of Do You Love Me and Little Chavaleh that had perfect delivery.

He was also blessed to have a feisty and robust life-partner in Lynsey Penkert’s Golde. This was a good solid performance, with strong vocal prowess, very good particularly in her scenes with Tevye, but maybe could have shown a slightly gentler side with her children on occasions. Nevertheless, she was very believable in her character.

Jennifer White was a strong, capable yet vulnerable Tzeitel, wanting to please her father, but wanting more to marry her true love. There was sincerity and determination in her acting. From crying at her father’s feet to forcefully cajoling Motel to man-up, she always got the tone just right. What little singing Tzeitel has, she performed with ease and assurance.

Ashley Murphy had a nice balance of passion and petulance in the role of Hodel, initially teasing and cool to Perchik, but then genuine in her love for him. Their duet was lovely. I did feel that the ‘melancholy choice’ referred to in Far From The Home I Love would have been more poignant if delivered more intimately to Tevye than to the audience, but it did display a quality voice.

Niamh Cullen pitched Chava just perfectly, shy, but rebellious, and determined to fight for her principals. She sang and danced beautifully and played the conflict between family and her loved one with so much sincerity.

Ester Crilly’s Yente nicely captured the old-ways, struggling to survive in an ever-changing world, and did so with good comedy that could perhaps have been a tad more exaggerated, but she was very believable.

There was a good, strong mix of melancholy and mirth in the interpretation of Lazar Wolf given by Seamus Power. He lost none of the comedy of the role, but he was also so likeable that I found myself feeling sorry for his ill-fortune. He performed To Life with good confidence.

Andrew Lane had a secure comedic ability to play the nervous but determined Tailor, Motel Kamzoil. He also displayed a fine voice in Miracle of Miracles, even if his jubilation was, for me, a tad over the top. The rest of his performance was more measured, delightful and sincere.

Anthony Finn perhaps needed to be more relaxed and assured, and a little less deliberate in his delivery as Perchik. He performed a lovely duet with Hodel, and very much looked the part, even if his accent was questionable.

Conor Lyons had the charm and the good manners as Fyedka to impress and win the affection of Chava. Very nicely played.

Julie Kinsella showed much courage to be raised almost to the ceiling as Fruma Sarah and still have the composure to effectively belt out her vocals in the Dream Scene. Also making a strong impression, as the exhumed but feisty Grandma Tzeitel, was Carmel Rowe.

Joe Malone, despite an accent that drifted towards the west of Europe on occasions, played a convincingly gruff and unsympathetic Constable. Phil Erskine was a suitably pompous

Rabbi’s son as Mendel, while his father, well-played by Owen Cullinan, perhaps needed to be a bit more aged. There was a good busybody nature to Tim Moloney’s Avram, and a strong, self-assurance and vanity about Darragh Carroll’s Mordcha.

Very good cameo performances came from Seán O’Brien as Sasha, Phyllis Smith as Shandel, and Billy Stafford as The Fiddler, even if he was slightly over-used, playing on the roof top. Aoibhinn Finn and Saoirse Penkert were charming and delightful as Bielke and Shprintze, contributing nicely to their scenes.

Costuming was very good indeed, with nice compliance with the ‘traditional’ demands for skull caps, prayer shawls, etc. Russian uniforms looked well and congratulations on providing a 16-foot long nightdress that allowed Fruma Sara to virtually rise to the ceiling during the Dream sequence. It was excellent. There was good attention to make-up, not just in keeping the chorus to earth tones, but also good aging and character make-up for several characters. Most of the beards looked natural, although I might have been inclined to age the Rabbi a bit more with a full gray/white beard.

I was very touched indeed by the great community spirit that emanated from this company, from on-stage to front of house and behind the scenes, and after all, isn’t that exactly what Fiddler is all about? A community, sharing in their highs and lows and making the best of every situation, even in the face of adversity. New Ross captured that emotional journey most effectively and did so in a compelling manner that had me leaving the theatre with that wonderful sense of fulfilment that this beautiful show always creates. Thank you sincerely to one and all for all your hard work.

Peter Kennedy

Gilbert Adjudicator AIMS 2023 / 2024

Please enjoy some photos kindly shared by Reb Mordcha - Photographer - Darragh Carroll


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