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Wednesday, May 13,2009

From the rooftops

‘Fiddler’ worth shouting about

by Paul Wozniak

As we face the most uncertain economic times of the last several decades, Lansing Civic Players’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof ” sings confidently about holding onto hope and one’s values, even when all seems lost. What’s more, from strong voices and actors to tight choreography and a simple, working set, this production is arguably one of Civic Players’ best shows in years.

The musical follows Tevye (Charlie Slocum), a poor milkman and father to five daughters living in a poor Jewish village in Czarist Russian. Without much to get by on but his faith and wits, Tevye’s relative willingness to accept new ideas forces his fellow villagers to re-think their age-old traditions, before they are all ultimately pushed out of their homes by the czar.


Slocum’s strength comes from his powerful, full-ranged voice. He is weakened only by his unwillingness to explore his character’s full range of emotions. Although Slocum hits every comic line with perfect timing and comes close to evoking tears during the sad moments, he never gets as openly angry as he could, leaving some flat moments. Slocum has the potential to push these moments; here’s to hoping he will for the final weekend.

Barbara Stauffer, as Tevye’s wife, Golde, also underplays her character, giving the quiet moments their needed sensitivity, but offering little when she becomes excited.

Another knockout in this cast of strong voices is David Sincox, as Lazar Wolf. Sincox ultimately is the strongest member of the cast, and not just because of his tal ent, but because he appears most comfortable on stage.

The strong casting continues with Justin Hein, as Perchik, and Bob Murrell, as Motel. Hein only needs to sand the sharper edges off of his passionate character, while Murrell is spot on as the insecure tailor.




Other strong vocal and acting performances come from Carin McEvoy, as eldest daughter Tzeitel; Mycah Artis, as Hodel; and Amanda Himebaugh, as Chava. This trio’s version of the song “Matchmaker” is on par even with the film version.

Tina Brenner is wonderfully disturbing as the ghost of Fruma-Sarah, although her makeup seems more drag queen than zombie.

Elizabeth Todd’s dance choreography is executed tightly by the entire cast during every song. Special numbers, such as the Russian dance and the bottle dance, shine, especially as backed by the versatile and talented pit orchestra led by Clara Powers.


Director Dan Pappas keeps the pace brisk and a long show from dragging. Tom Ferris’ set design fits the production with simple, abstract frames instead of a literal set. Jena Erbele’s sound allows every line to be heard, even though the microphones periodically feed back and distort. Only the lighting by Jim Lorenz and John Gross is too direct during the dream sequence and the Chavala ballet, offering too little distinction between the dream world and the real one.


For most audiences, these minor glitches will be lost in the overall performance, which is solid. Any uneven individuals or moments are quickly neutralized as soon as they blend back in with the chorus. As the final production of its 80th season, Civic Players has a show worth boasting about.

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