This is a special time of year; I daresay my favorite. It seems that all roads lead home in the dynamic few weeks before Christmas. The sheer number of music events occurring in my hometown is nothing to scoff at (nothing at which to scoff? Damn all the propositions). The city is alive and pulsating with art; an undeniable electricity illuminates the hearts and minds of men and women in an annual year-end cultural crescendo that will culminate on December 31st and extinguish before we are ready. Yes, this time of year, I’m proud to call Columbia, Missouri my home.
This weekend’s to-do was the classic Fiddler on the Roof, presented by Hickman High School and directed by Sarah Gerling, Robin Beach Steinahus, Denis Swope, and Vicki Palmer. It’s been nearly thirteen years since I last saw this show, which takes some time commitment as an audience member (nearly 3.5 hours?!). It was a long one, folks, but the time was not ill-spent, not in the least bit. In fact, it was only last weekend that I experienced a sort of personal renaissance at Battle High School’s production of Cinderella, during which my sense of purpose as an audience member underwent a rapid revitalization, and I remembered how fulfilling and awesome it is to simply consume art without any unreasonable expectations, reservations, or inhibitions.
I attended Friday evening’s run and the house was packed. Rumor has it nearly 800 people attended.* That’s some serious seat-age. I attempted like mad to resist the baked goods (UK folk – read again – baked goods) hawked at intermission, but I could imagine the Music Boosters were a teensy bit panicked at the prospect of five hundred unexpected guests. I hope they did well, and my apologies for the lack of purchase – I had to save my calories for my nightcap, which I so desperately needed after that notoriously haunting, almost chilling ending. For some reason, I don’t remember it concluding that way. Age and perspective do funny things to the soul.
My disclosures: I have private students involved, some current and others former. Like anyone, I can only wish I had been endorsed with tickets, drinks, or promises of fame and fortune to attend the show. Alas, like everyone else, I sat with my knees jammed up against the seat in front of me. Note to self: don’t wear high-heeled boots at the Hickman High School auditorium. Also, find an unsullied corner where my personal-space bubble can remain intact (I realize this statement does not bode well for my future, seeing as I’m only 28 and already a grouch face about personal space).
An outline of the evening’s memorable features:
- The unwavering Tevye, played by Will Fandek, who managed to intelligently balance the character’s archetypal gruffness with comedy and zeal. In the most heartbreaking of scenes, Tevya furiously disowns his daughter Chava after she elopes with her lover. I was nearly moved to tears at the discontent of it all and how beautifully Fandek, a high schooler, managed to bring to his role the wisdom of a Jewish father hell-bent on tradition and set on his ways. Lovely work, Will. Also, props for the beard (which looked real – was it?). That’s a lot of hair for one person.
- The adorable interchange between Tevye and Golde (Myriah Araiza) in “Do You Love Me?” Barring any fluky assumptions, I’d say their situation is not easy for mid-missouri teens to relate to, yet Araiza and Fandek pulled it off, and charmingly so. The interchange was sweet enough to make me elbow my date beside me, and believable enough that for a long moment after the scene, I pondered the implications of arranged marriages less than a hundred years ago by people like my great-great grandparents, and found myself grateful for my personal freedoms and thankful for the decisions of my ancestors.
- The character of Sasha, played by Mikey Mossine, whose infallible pirouettes caught my eye. This one appears to be a triple threat, with dance tied for vocals. To Columbia: it might be time to consider doing Billy Elliot. Any takers? Food for thought.
- An impressive vocal performance by Josh Friedrich, who played Perchik. Fantastic vowels, technic, and diction throughout. Mistake me not, Josh: you appear to be a SATIT. Super-Awesome-Tenor-In-Training. Super awesome tenors are in short supply; if you don’t neglect the training, I have no doubt you will have loads of fantastic theatric opportunities in store for you.
- My one rampantly-biased note is for Sophia Casto, who played the endearing oldest daughter, Tzeitel. During the scene in which Motel defends himself to Tevye, proving his love for Tzeitel, there is a moment where you are frozen in time while Tevye contemplates the situation. My friend next to me fawned over your beaming face, and even from far in the back, I couldn’t draw my eyes away from your character, which was captivating and believable.
- The two little girls Shprintze (Deanndra Zellmer) and Bielke (Olivia Aufderheide – greetings from your older sister’s former voice teacher!) What a nice opportunity to include developing thespians! These two were thick as thieves and wore their hearts on their sleeves. Keep up the good work, little ladies!
- The fiddler (Wenzer Qin), whose clean violin technique was rivaled only by her quiet demeanor and peculiar Mona Lisa half-smile, both of which sweetly fit the role.
- Charlee Kimmins, who played Yente: your hilarity was a ray of sunshine in a painfully bittersweet show. You reminded me just a little of Grandma Yetta from The Nanny, minus the alzheimer’s. Or maybe it’s just the name…
- THIS POSTER DESIGN:
this is glorious. The faint cubism effect and upside-down instrument poignantly represent the prevalent theme of fractured traditions. The fraying at the edge? Smart. Really clever. Did this come with the performance materials, or was this done locally?
- Tech-y stuff: I immediately noticed how well-balanced the microphones were, especially during “Matchmaker.” This is not an easy thing to do. I’m sure critical ears in the audience were grateful for the balance, too. The lighting bows at the end were spot-on and totally appropriate, too. Very nice attention to detail. In fact, I’m considering making T-shirts that say “thank a tech director.” I’ll fed-ex you yours.
- Last but not least, the jaw-dropping, freakish nightmare sequence, featuring a positively sinister Colleen Cutts as Fruma Sarah. I had to do a double audio-take; for a second, I had to make sure I wasn’t listening to a former voice student of mine, whose timbre is unmistakable. A quick glance at the program confirmed my suspicions: I suppose twins must share a certain amount of vocal gene traits (hello from your sister’s former voice teacher! A theme for this post…). You could have knocked me over with a feather, partially because the concept of “no fly space” made for a scene straight out of A Christmas Carol (Ghost of Christmas Fruma, anyone?). From what I heard, this scene became an actual nightmare on Saturday evening, when Cutts plummeted several feet from her monstrous stilts.** Yowzas! Good juju for a speedy recovery, Colleen. Glad you are okay. Way to suffer for your art!
To the rest of the cast, chorus, orchestra, and crew: I’d name you all by name, but then I’d have to kill you. Instead, know that I’ve scrutinized the program, and wish it had been in my power to get this little morale boost out before your last show. Better late than never, I suppose. Thank you all for the truly lovely performance (and sorry, Colleen… I know the possibility of falling to your death is not lovely…)