Theater review: Two Harbors ‘Fiddler’exceeds small-town theater expectations
Community theater gets a bad rap. The moniker brings to mind mediocre actors, ramshackle sets and costumes pilfered from the racks of the local Goodwill. The people in the audience only show up because their cousin plays Villager 1 or their little sister is working the lights.
If those are your expectations walking into Two Harbors High School for a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” prepare to be proven wrong.
The Lake Superior Community Theater production has its flaws, of course. The actors, musicians and crew are volunteers and director Paul Deaner said it was nearly impossible to squeeze all 70 participants into one room at the same time during rehearsals.
As a result, there are imperfections. Sometimes there’s a sharp note from the pit orchestra. Sometimes the lines are a little slow in coming out of the actors’ mouths. Sometimes the group chorus is out of sync or the solo is out of tune.
But the local talent, the rich scenery and the surprisingly “big” feel of the production easily overshadow the occasional shortcomings.
The musical, set in 1905 Russia, details the changing circumstances of a Jewish community. The main character, Teyve, must deal with familial drama in the form of increasingly independent daughters while the Tsar applies external pressure and anti-Semitism grows in greater Russia.
Parallels to current-day politics aside (does a controversial Russian leader and unrest in the former Soviet Union sound familiar?), the musical connects with its audience through well-worn archetypes. Young people threaten the established way of doing things, a minority population is pushed from its home and unconditional love keeps a family together — all are familiar storylines.
The success of “Fiddler” lies in its humor and earnestness in sharing those themes. How else could a 50-year-old musical, set more than a century ago, still keep smartphone-addicted audiences entertained for three hours?
The Lake Superior Community Theater’s performance keeps the spectators at attention with a well-done show injected with some jaw-dropping moments.
One such moment occurs in a scene directly after a laidback Sabbath prayer. Teyve has agreed to marry his oldest daughter off to a rich, aging butcher, and the whole male population of their small village is celebrating in the local inn, dancing and drinking in copious amounts. One dancer then breaks away from the group and performs an Olympic-grade gymnastics routine — back-flipping, somersaulting and leaping across the stage.
At the end of the scene on Saturday, the director, seated in the middle of the audience, sprang from his seat with a deafening whoop and pounded his fist in the air in recognition of Phillip Hommes’ flawless, invigorating performance. Deaner expressed perfectly what the rest of the audience was feeling.
Two scenes later, Teyve (played by George Starkovich) is describing a fabricated dream to his wife, Golde (played by Diane Dinndorf Friebe), that involved a small army of ghosts. The main lights dim and red hues flood the stage as a dozen sheet-clad actors float toward the two. The real shock comes when the deceased wife of the butcher shows up, flanked by grim reapers. Played by Lauren Burton, the ghost towered over the rest of the cast, illuminated by a yellow spotlight. How she gained 10 feet in height remains a mystery, but the effect is mesmerizing.
Starkovich and Alex Galle-From were the standout cast members. Seasoned Silver Bay actor Starkovich never disappoints, and this role fits him like a glove. The highlight was the “If I Were a Rich Man” sequence — his dance moves rivaled those of Gwen Stefani, who pilfered the song for her 2004 hit “Rich Girl.”
Galle-From, a Berklee College of Music-trained viola player, embodies The Fiddler perfectly as part of the set more than a character. His high level of skill is complemented by his nonchalant aura, and the musical would have felt quite a bit emptier without his presence.
The thousands of hours the small-town theater enthusiasts poured into this production is evident. It’s bigger and more impressive than anyone in the audience expected, demonstrated by the standing ovation after the final scene on Saturday.
It wasn’t one of those obligated Minnesotan standing ovations, either — it was a genuine foot-stomping, wolf-whistling, clap-until-your-hands-hurt ovation. Deaner and his crew deserved nothing less.
Go see it
What: “Fiddler on the Roof” by the Lake Superior Community Theater
Where: Two Harbors High School Auditorium
When: 7 p.m. today through Saturday.
Tickets: $12, $8 for students, available at www.lsct.us.