Review: Fiddler on The Roof. Beeston Musical Group. Duchess Theatre. Long Eaton

Fiddler On The Roof features some of the most soul-stirringly emotional and truly joyful music and songs in the entire musical theatre canon to date. In this amateur production by Beeston Musical Theatre Group we are more than amply rewarded with the stellar quality of the acting and singing. The dynamic choreography (Lu Anthony) and pin sharp direction (Beth Yearsley) and an excellent live band under the baton of musical director Charlotte Howarth combine to make this show one for its audiences to settle back and thoroughly enjoy. The intentionally bleak set design (Beth Yearsley) is kept simple yet poetic and allows for the action on stage to flow easily from iconic scene to iconic scene. Dave Martin’s atmospheric lighting design serves the production well.

In all my years of theatre going I don’t think I have ever seen Fiddler On The Roof bettered than this wonderful ‘sold out’ production. The talents on stage aside for a moment, the solidly placed BMTG high production values and creativity are well managed allowing the show to be properly amusing and consciousness stirring at the same time. Clunky is certainly isn’t. It is an amateur musical artistic gem that will be remembered with fondness for years to come and I expect a few proper tears with be shed on the final performance by all at BMTG.

The overriding themes of the musical Fiddler On The Roof are a strong sense of community and the social and religious values of tradition in a devout Jewish enclave in the Pale of Settlement in 1905 are apparent and paramount. We discover that unexpected social change at this period of history affects them in profound ways. All of the Jewish villagers in Anatevka look to tradition as a guide in their lives and tradition dictates that Yente, an older (and decidedly dotty) female matchmaker, aids in the arranging of marriages. It is not seemly for any erstwhile couples in the rural backwaters to decide for themselves who and when they will marry. It seems though that things are starting to work differently in the big cities like Kiev. There too are rumours of momentous societal change and not always for the better.

In a similar way their strongly held traditions also regulate dress, food consumption and who can interact with whom especially in regard to Jewish/Russian relations. Whilst Tevye upholds these traditions to the best of his ability, times are changing dramatically and the respected old ways of doing things come under repeated questioning. Tevye often turns to God for answers but they are not always forthcoming.

The fictional village of Anatevka is placed on the edges of modern day Ukraine and this revelation gives the story of a Jewish community’s forced displacement by the Russian army a particular modern relevance with the threat of a pogrom looming over the main character Tevye and his family and friends. Throughout the story outsiders attempt to warn the villagers about devastating prospects that may force them to emigrate to the politically safer world of the USA. The sorry migrants’ tale looms ever large once again and reminds us contemporary folk of the fragility of life.

Any production of ‘Fiddler’ needs a strong and likable lead actor to play Tevye and Beeston Musical Theatre Group are indeed blessed with their choice to cast Adam Guest as the village dairyman who wishes only that he were richer and that his horse were not lame and that his beloved older daughters Chava (Esther White), Tzeitel (Cibele Alvarenga) and Hodel (Marie Nelson) should marry good Jewish men with promise and financial prospects to continue the cultural family lineage. Guest handles his songs with great tenderness and he shows an understated talent when delivering the comedy lines. When he bellows in anger and frustration the theatre shakes!

Tevye plans for Tzeitel to marry Lazar Wolf (Graham Buchanan) a much older man who is the wealthy village butcher. While Tzeitel herself has her young eyes and heart firmly fixed on the shy tailor Motel (Jake Gelernter) and definitely not the village butcher. Secretly Tevye doesn’t like Lazar Wolf but gets sucked into the arrangement of the engagement through sharing far too many glasses of brandy with Lazar. Tzeitel and Motel’s ultra happy loved-up rendition of ‘Miracle of Miracles’ brings unexpected tears to this old reviewer’s misty eyes as does their wedding scene.

The two other older daughters, Chava and Hodel are excited about the visit from Yente the matchmaker (Maria Lawrence) but do seriously worry who they will be matched with – for life! Well you would, wouldn’t you? Harvey Latter is very likable as the studious Perchik and Lu Anthony brings a commendable gentleness to the young Russian Fyedka. The two younger daughters Shprintze (Evie Evans) and Bielke (Naomi Batley) can only look on with blissfully ignorant horror at what their own martial futures might bring when they too come of age. The five very different daughters, as played in this production, are a joy to watch interact. Yet it is Alvarenga’s Tzeitel who commands much of the stage and storybook attention with her quality acting especially in the first half.

Alvarenga gives us a strong well-sung and determined Tzeitel who also becomes the family determinant leading her sisters to bravely choose their partners for themselves (shock horror!) outside of the restrictive traditions of the Jewry: even when one pairing leads to estrangement from the patient Poppa Reb Tevye. The song ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker’ is a joyous highlight at the beginning of the stories of the inhabitants of Anatevka and done with great heart and vigour. Marie Lawrence’s Yente is most definitely another case of terrific acting and believable casting and gives us many amusing moments. Sandy Lane is outstanding as Tevye’s strong wife Golde. Every ounce of Lane’s acting weight shrieks professionalism.

The high quality costumes ( designs by Jocelyn Needham) for Beeston Musical Theatre Group’s ‘Fiddler’ are spot on and the company show a super real sense of dedication towards giving their audiences an authentic depiction of the various inhabitants of Anatevka. Each and every cast member seems to latch on to the importance of the portrayal of complex individuals on stage and they demonstrate visually and aurally a solid community in peril. This ensemble representing the Jewish people in Anatevka are clinging together on a slippery slope as their seemingly secure 1905 world suddenly crumbles and evaporates from under their barely connected feet and their once solid loves and memories become merely as dust to be blown away on the uncaring winds of history.

If all this seems a bit bleak for you average review readers then you need to remember that this fictional tale of Fiddler On The Roof is based on true (and much harsher) stories by the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem at the turn of the 20th Century. He lived in a time where it wasn’t so far from the events that brought about great social change and poverty in Eastern Europe and not so many years away from the carnage that became the First World War. And we think immigrants have a tough time now of which there is no denying. Imagine walking thousands of miles to escape serious persecution with a few belongings strapped to your back and with no real solid hope for survival except for random acts of charity. If theatre is meant to offer proper engagement then this production of Fiddler On The Roof by Beeston Musical Theatre Group most certainly hits all the right emotional and musical notes.

On a cheerier note anyone coming to see this excellent production of the famous musical Fiddler On The Roof will thoroughly enjoy the classic songs like ‘If I Were A Rich Man’, ‘To Life!’, ‘Miracle of Miracles’, and ‘Sunrise- Sunset’, that have made this musical one of the best-loved of all time. Director Beth Yersley’s entire Beeston Musical Theatre Group present it exceptionally well. The big scenes like Tevye’s Bad Dream sequence, Tzeitel’s Wedding, the crazy drinking session with Lazar Wolf ( a meaty role played superbly by Graham Buchanan) and the opening and closing ensemble numbers are executed to perfection.

Fiddler On The Roof runs until May 27th at The Duchess Theatre Long Eaton. Currently it is sold out but keep your ears and eyes open for any potential returns.

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