BWW REVIEWS: Trinity Street Players' FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a Blessing to Austin Theatre
Tradition. The world in itself embodies the theme of the well-known and beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof. For over half a century now, the timeless tale of Teyve, a loveable yet customary man raising five daughters in 19th century Russia, has touched a plethora of audiences, ranging in age, faith, and beliefs. As far as old-fashioned musical theater goes, Fiddler reaps tradition in every which way. From its hummable, fun-loving numbers, to its relatable characters and relationships, Fiddler on the Roof encompasses known tradition, both within the script and upon the stage.
Trinity Street Players and Austin Jewish Repertory Theater attempt to break the- dare I say- clichéd theatrical tradition in their production of Fiddler...and come out not only triumphant, but with a standing ovation. While the script, costumes, and songs reflect a production we all know and love, its theatrical elements test the boundaries of conventional musicals. A small, black-box theater, a bare stage, and minimal props contradict the expected bright lights, vast stage, and detailed sets of flashy Broadway musicals. It is obvious that some of these actors are trained- or perhaps waiting on- that large, big-budget stage, and adjusting to a more intimate performance to fit the venue (among energetic musical numbers and acrobatic choreography) proves a challenge for some of the cast. Despite this relatively small- yet noticeable- hurdle, the ensemble does an admirable job of adapting, and as a result, the audience feels more performed with, than performed at.
Trinity Street Players also challenge the traditional run-of-the-mill definition of community theatre. The all-volunteer, non-profit company commits to "providing high quality, thought-provoking, and entertaining stage productions." Firmly believing in "making the arts accessible and relevant," their production of Fiddler is free. With a sold out guest list as well a high-demand wait list, additional theatregoers are encouraged to arrive and anticipate a no-show in hopes of becoming part of the audience.
A free seat in Trinity Street's black box doesn't simply make you an audience member- but part of the show. With a 3-sided thrust stage, the cozy venue places show-goers directly in the middle of an commendable cast- and an even more impressive Fiddler, played by 14-year-old Chet Fagerstrom (who, endearingly points out in his bio, "All fiddlers were once children"). A big-budget, Broadway-caliber musical it is not. Audiences should expect a notable collaboration of Austin actors, successfully spreading a beloved message of family and tradition in a simple- yet absorbing- atmosphere.
Rick Felkins' Tevye provides the relatable, humorous, and inspiringly strong narrator needed to support and guide the show. While his performance began a bit shaky, his lovable energy, impeccable timing, and charming personality grew as his character unfolded. Felkins' successful breaking of the fourth wall allowed him to welcome the audience into the town of Anatevka as his own family.
The voice of the cast was reflected in Becky Musser's memorable Hodel. A bit forgettable at the start, her engaging scenes with Creighton Moench's Perchik made her a clear audience favorite. Musser brought the perfect combination of naivety and bravery to Hodel, giving her an admirable sense of adventure only topped by a show stopping voice. Her final scene with Felkins, in which she sings the beautiful Far from the Home I Love, was perhaps the most heartbreaking, yet noteworthy, moment of the night.
Another perfect casting decision comes in LeRoy Nienow's Lazar Wolf. With an unmistakable stage presence, Nienow's natural talent turns Wolf into a more lighthearted, relatable character- a side not often seen in other productions. Notable actresses Sarah Zeringue (Chava) and Jane Newchurch (Grandma Tzeital)- who leads the charge in Tevye's Dream, the evening's most exciting number- round out this very complete ensemble. In terms of community theatre, not every actor or actresses is expected to walk from the Austin stage to the Broadway limelight. Even so, this diverse cast, with some trivial flaws (but much more talent), successfully compliments one another.
Trinity Street Players and Austin Jewish Repertory Theatre successfully perform the well-known Fiddler on the Roof in a very new way. As I learned Thursday evening, a set and large stage do not a musical make; it is a combination of a talented and dedicated ensemble, successful and detailed direction, and the willingness of the audience to become a part of a well-loved and timeless story- all of which this production provides. Audiences should prepare for a traditional night at the theatre in the least traditional of ways- hey, we're supposed to be keeping Austin weird, right?
Fiddler on the Roof is presented by Trinity Street Players in collaboration with Austin Jewish Repertory Theatre, Performances run through August 31st- August 2nd - August 31st. Thursdays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm at First Baptist Church.