Fiddler on the Roof has been a beloved musical since its first production on Broadway in 1964. The show is based on a collection of stories by Sholem Aleichem, and also a later book by Joseph Stein. A story filled with Jewish tradition, it has become a tradition itself, running for nearly a decade on Broadway alone, not to mention the numerous productions put on in theaters elsewhere since Jerome Robbins first directed and choreographed it. It got a film adaptation in 1971, as well.
Shrewsbury Youth Theatre has given the community a wonderful gift this late July weekend. Attendees will get the songs and tradition of Fiddler on the Roof that many already know and love, but with a dash of youthful exuberance with Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.
Set in the village of Anatevka in the early 1900s, Fiddler on the Roof follows a community of Jewish people clinging to their faiths and family traditions in Czarist Russia. The world around them is changing, as the poor milkman Tevye notes to himself and to the audience, but he and some of the other elders are trying their best to keep their heads in their work and their obligations to God and their families. Still, as time rolls on, Tevye sees through the romantic choices of his eldest daughters that love conquers tradition every time. Each of the daughters chooses a spouse that is not chosen for them, which goes against all that Tevye and his wife Golde have known. Although Tevye disagrees, he soon learns that his daughters’ hearts are stronger than his desire to maintain the ways of his ancestors. Tradition is forced to be broken time and again, as is evident in the closing of the show, when the Russian forces outside of the village are seeping more and more pressures into Anatevka.
For a show with so much adult content, the young actors and actresses of Shrewsbury Youth Theatre exude remarkable maturity. (The age range of the cast of about 60 seems to be from about 5 to 15.) While there is the expected straying of a dancer from a chorus line from time to time, and a lost line here and there, the overall sharpness of the production is satisfying, even more so when considering the fact that this is likely the first of any stage that these fresh actors have been on. Because it is a “junior” version of the original show, it is cut in half. Many of the musical numbers have been omitted, and a few scenes. The audience can rest assured that they will still get the beloved musical numbers most well-known from the show, including “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset.” Actor Michael Curdt, who carries a great deal of the lines and plot as Tevye, does a great job. His humorous asides to the audience are lovable. Golde, played by actress Nataleigh Scheller-Houska, exudes strong feminine assurance, and each of the daughters had excellent vocal range. The relationship between Hodel (Abby Bennett) and Perchik (Isabelle Koenen) was especially endearing. Julia Harris gives a sassy and giggle-inducing performance as the matchmaker Yente. Here and there a line is dropped or under-enunciated, but nothing that would ruin the show for an audience member who is not familiar with the show to a tee.
The show’s music is solely recordings, including the iconic fiddling of the fiddler on the roof. This was a tad disappointing, but didn’t ruin the effect of the show. The actors and actresses had enough vocal talent to make up for this. There were a few times that the recording seemed to skip, which was a tad distracting, and after intermission, it became difficult to hear the actors and actresses over the volume of the music.
Lighting and set was minimal, as well as costuming, which seemed fitting for a show rich in tradition. Crew running was smooth.
The thumbs up for this show is earned to director Cindy Kessler and her young thespians largely due to its success in displaying the tradition of a beloved musical, while threading in some adorable, excited, fresh faces.
Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. has remaining shows this July 21 through 23 at the Shrewsbury Community Center in Shrewsbury, Mo. Showtimes at 7 PM. Contact Shrewsbury Youth Theatre: (314) 647-1003 or Lauren Mayer at LMayer@cityofshrewsbury.com .