Fiddler on the Roof – 22 November 2017, Sheffield University Drama Studio

SUPAS’s spring semester production was one of my musical highlights of the year so I was delighted to be invited to review the opening night of their autumn semester production of Fiddler on the Roof, which promised to be a joyous and life-affirming story of the strength of love, faith and pride in the face of adversity.

Set in pre-revolutionary Russia, the musical tells the story of the people of the Jewish village of Anatevka, who are clinging to their traditions in a rapidly changing world. Preoccupied with the task of finding matches for his three daughters, Tevye the poor dairyman struggles to maintain stability for his family against the backdrop of the anti-Semetic sentiments sweeping across Europe.

“Tradition” kicked off the wonderful production with a combination of great choral voices and traditional dancing from the ensemble, straight to audience speaking by Mike Alexander as Tevye, beautiful musical arrangements, comedy and passion, which set the standard for the whole show and provided a perfect introduction to the characters. “Matchmaker” performed by Francesca Cornell, Katie Nelson and Sorcha Rose as the sisters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava combined the beautiful sweet voices of Katie and Sorcha, that could have come straight out of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical with the operatic tones of Francesca, including her impressive impressions of the Matchmaker.

“If I Were A Rich Man” showed off Mike’s incredible operatic voice, stage presence, personality, comic timing and even his animal impressions, doing the show’s best known song wonderful justice before “Sabbath Prayer” featured stunning choral ensembles, made even more wonderful being performed by candlelight, and introduced Niamh Finan, as Tevye’s wife Golde, beautiful singing voice.

“To Life” could be one of the ultimate feel-good drinking and celebration songs, with added clapping and seated tap dancing thrown in, whilst in contrast, “Miracle of Miracles” showed off Ola Sobande (as Motel) West End worthy singing voice, full of smooth tones and soulful passion.

“The Dream” combined the fragile comedic (June Whitfield in “Absolutely Fabulous”) style of Megan Armson as Grandma Tzeitel and the operatic, Tim burton worthy ghost of Lazar Wolf (Hugo Lamper) dead wife Fruma Sarah (played by Joanna Kearney) with strong harrowing voices and contemporary choreography from the ensemble.

The wedding scene provided the perfect ending to act one, from the moving “Sunrise, Sunset”, whose lyrics and emotional performance by Mike and Niamh would have been related to any parent who has ever attended their child’s wedding to the traditional wedding rituals and dances (including a bottle dance) and, of course, arguments before a dark ending left the audience in suspense during the interval.

Kicking off act two, “Now I Have Everything” was a beautiful love song and duet between Joe Berriman as Perchik and Katie, full of affection and stunning voices, once more with Rogers and Hammerstein worthy voices. Performed with glorious operatic voices by Mike and Niamh, “Do You Love Me” was full of unspoken love and affection and provided a wonderful love song for those in long term relationships.

“The Rumour” lived up to it’s name and provided the more minor characters and the ensemble with the opportunity to play a bizarre game of Chinese whispers through beautiful voices and clever musical arrangements. In contrasting style “Far From The Home I Love” provided the show’s best showcase of Katie’s stunning musical and emotional range, that would be worthy of any stage and the “Chava Sequence” combined the moving passion of Mike’s wonderful singing voice with a stunning solo ballet/contemporary routine by Sorcha.

“Anatevka” provided a beautiful and emotional ending to the show from all involved, whose reflections on persecution and refugees and the importance of home and family, are sadly as relevant today as they were in pre-revolutionary Russia.

Proving why Fiddler on the Roof remains a musical classic, the production was full of hilarious comedy, wonderful songs and a delightful script providing an insight not only into Jewish culture and Russian history but most importantly into love and family. The performance was full of wonderful voices and choreography, superb direction and stunning musical arrangements, which combined to make another stand-out musical performance by the SUPAS, and confirmed that for fans of musicals their productions are never ones to miss.

The outstanding performance of the night came from Mike, who deserves an amazing career in musical theatre, possessing the perfect combination of great stage presence, a great singing voice and great acting skills, with wit, passion and personality.

Alongside the cast members I have already mentioned above, I must also give special mentions to Niamh who performed her matriarchy role with great passion and attitude; Shaney Stevens as  Yente who played the role the gossipy, frail village matchmaker, with a pinch of Alan Sugar and hidden vulnerability; and Catherine Germscheid as the Constable who combined authority with respect, at least initially, for Tevye.

I also want to thank whoever cast the show and the actors who played the roles for the fantastic chemistry, reflected relationships new, old and possible, in the show’s main couples of Tevye and Golde; Tzeitel and Motel; Hodel and Perchik; and Chava and Fyedka (Harry Carling), which felt incredible natural and believable.

I must also take the time to congratulate the band whose beautiful playing provided the perfect emotional setting to show, with special credit going to the fiddle player Jenny Espin, whose stunning solos proved the fiddler can be played just a wonderfully on the stage as it can on a roof.

Fiddler on the Roof will be at the Sheffield University Drama Studio at 7.30pm until Saturday 25th November with an additional 2.30pm on the Saturday. Tickets are £9 full price and £7 concessions, available from www.ticketsource.co.uk/supas.

Sheffield University Performing Arts Society (SUPAS) is the University of Sheffield’s only society specialising in musical theatre, putting on two shows each academic year in the University Drama Studio along with a variety of workshops and other projects. Their core philosophy is to have fun and be as inclusive as possible. For further information visit www.supassheffield.com.

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