by Matthew Falduto
Photos by Jackie Blake Jensen
Coralville – At its heart, Fiddler on the Roof is a story of home. The denizens of Anatevka are facing the threat of forced relocation and Tevye and Golda are struggling to cope with their growing daughters who are leaving the home. It’s a thought provoking show with a lot of heart and a lot of humor. City Circle does an excellent job exploring the story, providing its audience with an enjoyable evening.
The set design was simple and evocative. Far upstage were bare tree trunks reaching up and out of sight with the horizon colored orange, suggesting the melancholy of the story to come. Downstage left was an outline of a house, the home of Tevye and Golda and their five daughters. Mirroring that on the other side of the stage was a tavern, the location of a number of important scenes. Suggestions of other houses gave us the feeling of a small town in Russia.
Chris Carpenter is very engaging as Tevye. He has a strong connection to the audience, which is crucial for the character. Oftentimes, Tevye must speak directly to the audience, and Carpenter shines in these moments. His singing is spot on as well. Carpenter understands comedic timing and always pulls off the humor of the show, particularly in the scenes with Golda (Emily Riedell).
The only critique I have is that during If I Were a Rich Man, which is a euphoric moment for the character, he never really lets go in terms of movement, creating a somewhat static performance. He seemed to be holding back, and having experienced Carpenter’s performances in the past, I know he is definitely someone who can let go. Perhaps this was a result of the director’s input, but in any case, it’s a small quibble in what was overall a wonderful performance.
All three of the daughters were excellent. Their song, Matchmaker, was wonderfully sung, with humor and pathos. The only puzzling aspect of that song was is in the staging. The house was far stage right and only used a small portion of the stage. The song was performed in this very small area, limiting the movement that could have been utilized to add to the humor of the song. It was an inexplicable decision, considering that on the exact opposite side of the stage, the tavern was expanded to allow for more movement. The same thing could have been done with the house setting and the song would have been better for it. So many times the entire stage was used to great effect – it’s a shame this song was so boxed in. Still much credit must be given to the three young actresses who performed the catchy tune with wonderful verve.
Nikki Scheel portrayed the knowing oldest sister Tzeitel with a sense of urgency perfectly encapsulating the character’s concerns of being forced into a future she does not want. It’s a smart performance by a talented actor. Madison Glanz-Glassford as Chava, the youngest sister, has a lovely voice and created a real character. Her anguish late in the play as she is rejected is palpable. Lauren Rude, whose character, Hodel, has perhaps more of a journey than the other two daughters, did an excellent job maneuvering from innocent teen to determined woman. She sang Far From the Home I Love beautifully with emotion and understanding. She was helped by excellent scene partners, notably Carpenter as Tevye, but also Jacob Glass as Perchik, the revolutionary with whom she falls in love. Glass and Rude had excellent chemistry together.
Emily Riedell is effective as Golda, Tevye’s wife. Riedell was at her best in the scenes with Carpenter, as they have an easy chemistry. Their final song, Do You Love Me? is sweet and funny and has a lot more meaning to me now having been married 20 years than it did when I first saw the show oh so long ago. A standout in the show was Ellen Stevenson as the matchmaker herself, Yente. She has all the funny lines, and Stevenson delivered them perfectly. And keep track of your potatoes when she’s around!
The ensemble performed admirably throughout the entire show. (Go for the bottle dancers alone… seriously impressive job.) The songs Tradition and To Life in particular stood out as wonderful musical moments that pick you up and transport you to the wonder of live theatre. I loved the staging of To Life, where the Russian soldiers join in the celebration with their own dances. We see the hesitancy of the Jewish characters to trust the Russians, but slowly they all come together through dance and celebration. (This is short-lived of course.) All of this is played very well without any dialogue. Kudos in particular to the ensemble members who created the tension and released it through dance.
Tradition was another fun number to watch as the Mamas, the Papas, the Sons and the Daughters all had their moment in the sun during this exuberant and uplifting song. The ensemble was simply perfect and excellent staging by director Ian Zahren brought these large numbers to life.
The highlight of the show for me was Tevye’s dream sequence. It’s one of the funniest and most fun moments of the show, and director Zahren pulled out all the stops to create a nightmarish experience. The ensemble was wonderful with their frenetically jerky movements as they surrounded the bed in which Tevye and Golda huddle. Bev Mead was perfect as Grandma Tzietel, showing off her pipes and stage presence. And Mia Fryvecind Gimenez was wonderfully scary as Lazar Wolf’s dead wife.
City Circle has created an extremely strong show and I encourage you to check it out. Bring the whole family. My daughters loved the show and my youngest has been singing Matchmaker, Matchmaker for days. Tickets are available here.