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FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (article first published : 2005-07-16)

Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, the 2005 Unilever Young Performers' Project is Fiddler on the Roof which marks its most challenging musical to date, following a string of successful productions such as Oliver! and Grease.

Running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until July 24, Fiddler on the Roof includes a cast of school children ranging in age from 12 to 18 with only a mere handful having had previous theatre experience.

Set in Russia in 1905 under Tsarist rule, Fiddler on the Roof is based on the Sholem Aleichem stories by special permission of Arnold Peri as well as the book by Joseph Stein with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. It is a brilliantly-conceived and heart-warming musical with some legendary dialogue and lyrics that tug at the heart strings, such as the Sabbath Prayer, Far from the Home I Love and Anatevka.

We observe a simple family man battling to make ends meet as his world changes rapidly about him. Not only does he have to come to terms with the fact that his three eldest daughters defy his parental power to follow their hearts but anti-Semitism in Russia looms large on his doorstep. At the end of the day, itís about survival, faith and tradition.

Themi Venturas, who is also the director, puts in arguably the finest performance of his career as Tevye the Milkman, a part that could so easily be caricatured. His sincere and respectful portrayal of this simple man who has yearnings to be a philosopher provides solid weight for the humour.

Having played Golde myself and knowing what a wonderful feisty character she is, I was impressed by Amy Savilleís mature interpretation of the role. I delighted in Roxy Nelís Yente the Matchmaker and enjoyed the performances of the three elder daughters: Tzeitel (Elisha Mudly); Hodel (Georgina Mabbett) and Chava (Sophie Basckin). However, I didnít feel that enough use was made of girlish fun in Matchmaker which is one of the most delightful songs in the musical.

Matthew Venturasís delivery was way too fast, even given Perchikís revolutionary spirit and while Bandile Hlophe gained the audienceís sympathy as Motel, he needs to project himself more. I was much impressed by Jonathon Funcke as Mendel. With his strong, well-paced voice and good articulation, he will be an asset to the theatre scene.

Peter Court, who is also assistant director and choreographer, has designed an attractive and workable set that looks suitably dilapidated as befits the poverty-stricken area of Anatevka.

Band leader Daniel Tucker provides good accompaniment but the use of synthesised sound of violins and accordions jarred considerably, particularly in Tevyeís reveries.

Fiddler on the Roof runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at 19h30 until July 24. The production is also operating as a fundraiser for a number of schools and organisations. Booking is through Computicket. Ė Caroline Smart




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