New roof is a great fit for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

SOUTH SALT LAKE — After extensive renovations, the Children’s Theatre opened doors last week to their new theater in South Salt Lake.  Anyone who remembers the old Avalon will value the incredible transformation to the building. Fiddler on the Roof is the debut show for their Youthstage lineup, which is performed solely by youth.  The cast members ranged from 10-19 years old.

The “fiddler on the roof” is a metaphor Tevye uses at the beginning of the show to describe the instability and foolishness of breaking away from tradition.  Throughout the show, Tevye struggles to be faithful to his customs and traditions while honoring his love for his daughters—whose actions turn farther and farther away from those customs.  The fiddler appears intermittently to remind the audience of Tevye’s position concerning his traditions; however, director Joanne Parker’s decision to change the actor playing the fiddler each time caused me to reflect on how Tevye’s perception of tradition evolves throughout the story.  All symbolism aside, this is a children’s show, and the target audience is likely to miss the subtleties that their parents will appreciate.   The musical was shortened, well-paced, and easy to digest.

In some ways, the production quality can be compared to the new building: clean, accessible, welcoming, and definitely ready for an audience, even though there may be some finishing touches to add.  They both add new vitality to something old. There were no microphones, and I don’t know how that affected audience members on the back row.  It wasn’t a problem for me on the second row because the performers all projected their voices.  The music (with musical direction by Anne Puzey) was well-balanced and delightful.  I sometimes think it can be harder to perform with a track instead of an orchestra, but the cast managed it just fine. The choreography (Camee Faulk) was simple, yet effective.  It was reminiscent of Yiddish styles, with an occasional Russian dance step (appropriate for the setting).  It’s always a good sign when the dancing makes the stage seem bigger than it actually is.  I’m sure that’s largely attributed to the energy level of the dancers.

The real highlight for me was the acting—especially from Robert Fernandez, who played Tevya.  From the first line of the show to the very end, Robert delivered a phenomenal portrayal of the conflicted patriarch.  His accent was convincing, his presence was known, and at times I forgot he was only a teenager.  Each of the three oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Phoenix Poore), Hodel (Annie Cowden), and Chava (Lucy Holmgren), displayed their own level of acting that showed maturity as well.  As they began to act on their own behalf, I saw a growth in the way they portrayed their characters—a transition from girls to women.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few finishing touches I would like to have added.  While the staging and lighting was great, there were a few times when actors found themselves in the shadows.  But it’s likely that these things are a consequence of being in a new building and have been tweaked after the opening performance.  Also, I didn’t see enough anger/fight in most of the actors.  It would have been nice to see a more feistiness from some of the characters as they came in conflict with Tevye or the events around them.

In the end, I really enjoyed this production, and I would definitely suggest watching it – especially if you have children you’d like to introduce to Fiddler on the Roof.  You’ll enjoy what they’ve done to the new theater.  And after seeing Fiddler, I’m convinced that the Children’s Theatre will do more than renovate an old building.  They’re bringing vitality to a rich theater culture in the community they’ve moved to.  I’m excited to see more from them.

Fiddler on the Roof plays at the Children’s Theatre (3605 S. State Street, South Salt Lake) April 30, May 3, and May 5 at 7 PM. Tickets are $8. For more information, visit www.tctheatre.org.