, Port Arthur, Texas


July 22, 2013

Review: ‘Fiddler on Roof’ deserves full house

PORT ARTHUR — Tradition ruled the stage at Thursday’s opening night of “Fiddler on the Roof” and tradition seemed to be exactly what an appreciative audience wanted.

When the curtain rose on the prologue, it appeared that everyone from the Russian village of Anatevka was rushing to the town square to join in a powerful rendition of “Tradition,” one of the many well-known songs from the popular musical. The stage was filled with characters in colorful costumes following the lead of Tevye, played by Tom Neal, as the theme of tradition was established, both for the plot of the musical and for many of the cast and crew.

Director Keith Cockrell, who is director of theater at Lamar State College-Port Arthur; Neal, vice president of student services at LSC-PA, and his wife, Linda, a teacher in the Port Arthur ISD, all have previous experience with “Fiddler.” Cockrell learned from — and admits to stealing everything he remembers from — the director of that years-ago production.

The Neals are reprising the roles of Tevye and Golde, a poor Jewish milk man and his wife in 1905 Russia. They played those roles in the production of “Fiddler” that Cockrell was involved in 17 years ago. Tradition.

The story is about how three of Tevye’s daughters rebel against the custom of arranged marriages — matchmaking. The thread of tradition unravels little by little as each of Tevye’s daughters chooses her own husband based on love. Tevye discovers he can’t control his family any more than he can control political events on the eve of the Russian Revolution, sad events that eventually drive the villagers from Anatevka and scatter them to other parts of the world.

The quality of the music in this production of “Fiddler” becomes apparent in Scene 1, as Tevye’s daughters are cleaning the kitchen. They dance with their mops and sing the familiar words,  “Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match.” The voices of Heather Capello and Heather Rushing as Hodel and Chavia ring bell clear, ably accompanied by Ashley Van Pelt as Tzeitel.

The live orchestra conducted by Justin Collazo providing the music backstage brought the feel of big-city theater to Port Arthur’s production of “Fiddler.”

Neal understates his role as Tevye and comes across very believable as a religious man who talks with God as one would imagine him talking with an old friend. That sets the stage for “If I were a Rich Man,” when Tevye asks God if it would interrupt some vast eternal plan if he were wealthy. It’s during this song that Neal’s talent as a singer shines through, and a look across the audience showed they were captivated by the action on stage.

The quality of the singing throughout this musical is far above what would normally be expected from a community theater production. They even get good performances from a couple of ghosts.

Tevye tells Golde about his concocted dream to convince her to support their daughter’s decision to marry the man she loves, not the older, wealthier man the Matchmaker has chosen for her. Grandma Tzeitel, played by Dixie Tucker, and Fruma-Sarah, played by Hilary Hayes, are the ghosts in the special effects dream scene complete with flying, smoke machines and a chorus of undead spirits.  

One of the most touching moments is when Tevye and Golde perform the duet “Do You Love Me.” Pure emotion comes through as Tevye, after losing his daughters, wonders if even his wife of 25 years really loves him.

If the unraveling of his family isn’t enough turmoil, all of society is coming apart at the seams as all the Jews in the region are ordered to abandon their villages. The traditions upon which order was built break down and the scattered family must find new traditions in a new land.

The story goes straight to the ties that bind a family — and a people — together. The actors brought the story to life and the orchestra made it resonate. The nearly three hours for the production seemed a little long, and with a 7:30 start time, it was well past the dinner hour when the final curtain fell. But that didn’t deter the audience, which only filled about half the seats in the theater, from giving a well-deserved standing ovation to a show that deserves to be playing in front of a packed house.


Twitter: @RogerCowles

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