Monday, July 14, 2014

Fiddler on the Roof musical premiers in renovated Schoolhouse Arts Center - By Molly Olsen

Fiddler on the Roof is the sort of musical where the songs have seeped so deeply into the public consciousness that we don't even necessarily associate the tunes with the show anymore. I once saw "To Life" performed at a wedding, in Mrs. Doubtfire Robin Williams parodied "Matchmaker", and "If I Were a Rich Man" was  even sampled for a 2004 Gwen Stefani hit. So although these songs have perhaps morphed into something completely separate from the show, the Schoolhouse Arts production (directed by favorite of the theater, Bruce Avery) reminds us of the truly great story and characters from which these songs are derived.

In the beginning of the show we meet Tevye, played by (the perfectly cast) Chris Roberts, who leads us through the story of his village, 1900's Anatevka, with grace and humor. He explains that the town bases most decisions upon the teachings of ancestors— rituals and historical conventions are the building blocks of their lives. The opening song, "Tradition", lays out the time-honored roles of husbands, wives and children, and reminds the audience of how cemented and pre-planned most of these people's lives are.

As the show continues we meet Tevye's family. First is his wife Golde played by Danielle Raitt, who is a great partner to Roberts, with her own comedic timing and strong dramatic moments. Then we are introduced to the pair's five daughters; the oldest Tzeitel (Kim Drisko), followed by Hodel (Lauren Bamford), Chava (Katie Stoddard), and the two youngest Shprintze and Bielke (played by Ashley McBreairty and Meghan Reidy). Because the girls come from a poor family, the very funny, busy-body matchmaker, played by Sabrina Luy, attempts to find them each a suitor. This leads to the song "Matchmaker", which was among my favorites as it nicely showcases the three oldest girl's strong voices.
From there the audience is taken through the story of how Tevye's three eldest daughters meet and choose their future husbands, instead of being "matched" as is the norm. And so the couples ask the girls' father to accept the marriages despite their uncommon circumstances, which is not an easy thing to do for such a devout Jewish man. Following the requests, Tevye's faith is tested even more deeply, and eventually his whole village must face change whether they like it or not.
When it comes to this show's music, I've always loved "The Sabbath Prayer" as well as "To Life", and the casts renditions did not disappoint— the former a beautiful hymn, and the latter the upbeat tune you'll leave the theater humming. "Sunrise, Sunset" is another gorgeous song that will make many a parent in the theater cry. But then there's a song that I feel often gets overlooked: "Far From the Home I Love", which is unfortunate, because when done well, it can be incredibly moving. Luckily, Bamford delivers with a pitch perfect, near-flawless rendition. Although the cast clearly brought their own talents to the table, it should be noted that the show was under the musical direction of the incomparable Victoria Stubbs.

The first half of the show is a bit more high energy and bright when compared to the second act. But "L'Chaim" means "to life", and life is something that has to be experienced through ups and downs, both light and darkness— and we are all better for seeing those parts in between. This show will lead your heart back to moments when your own children got married, when parts of your family struggled to stay together, and when big changes were coming in the world, so all you could do was stand by your beliefs and hope for the best. I've always felt that the best kinds of shows were ones that could really made you feel something, and this story certainly does.

It seems appropriate that Fiddler on the Roof should be the first show to open at Schoolhouse after some recent renovations, as the show tackles the big question of when should tradition should be upheld, and when should we welcome change? Schoolhouse Arts Center is a wonderful example of history meeting change. This is the theater's 26th year, during which time it has hosted classes for all ages in everything from puppet-making to Zumba, and has put on show after show filled with heart, and powered by community. And lucky for the theater, that community (as well as the grant-giving Naragansett Foundation) saw its value, and helped it to make some much wished-for changes to the building's facilities. 

After 12 weeks of construction, the old school house now has a new floor in the theater, 20 more seats (with room for more should the show sell-out), new curtains donated by Gorham schools, and has even been made handicap accessible with a ramp from the outside straight to the theater, paired with a door from the gathering room (where most patrons spend intermission) which opens to the same platform the ramp comes up to. Although the entire building has the charm and history that only a school built 100 years ago can, it's nice to have some options for those who wish to avoid the stairs, but still want to see one of the wonderful shows which Schoolhouse has become known for.

Show Dates:
July 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 at 7:30 p.m.
and July 6, 13, 20, 27 at 5:00 p.m.
Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors.
Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Road (Route 114) in Standish, just north of the intersection of Route 114 and Route 35.
Call 642-3743 for reservations or buy tickets on-line at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.