By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Fiddler on the Roof is one of our favorite musicals (Darrell has cast recording in eight different languages!), and we were a little nervous about how such a dense and sophisticated show would translate to the conventions of the “Jr.” format, usually reserved for shows with a very young cast and aimed at an equally young audience. However, Theatre in the Grove’s C.A.S.T. (Children’s After School Theatre) production proves our fears unfounded. The teen ensemble, directed by Jeanna Van Dyke and vocal director Ashleigh Zijdemans, captures the spirit and emotional impact of the original story, and the cleverly edited script retains all of the show’s powerful themes and characters.
In less than ninety minutes, Fiddler, Jr. deals with prejudice, religious freedom, women’s rights, love, class warfare, the tension between tradition and progress – all topics as current today as they were when the Harnick and Bock show made its Broadway debut in 1964. Set in the tiny Russian village of Anatevka in 1905, the story revolves around Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman, his wife Golde, and their five daughters. By the closing number, the Jewish villagers have been driven out by the Cossacks, three of Tevye’s daughters have picked their own spouses without the assistance of matchmaker Yente, and the remaining family members are headed off to America to live with an unsuspecting uncle.
Jer Stephens (Tevye) provides a firm anchor for the show, acting as both lead and Greek chorus as he navigates and narrates the key moments. He brings a mature dramatic sensibility, comedic precision, and a solid singing voice to the role. The relationship between Stephens and Mikayla Wallace (Golde) works beautifully - while she is technically subservient to her husband, Golde tries to rule the family with an iron hand, but is constantly undercut by her husband’s romanticism and indecision. Mikayla’s lovely voice adds a lot, especially in the touching “Do You Love Me?”
The three oldest daughters (Crystal White as Tzeitel, Brea Grimes as Hodel, and Brenna Fitzgearld as Chava) provide charming solo voices and harmonies, and they do a great job of conveying their growing resistance to traditional notions of arranged marriage. Among the rest of the cast, Jack Thias (Motel the Tailor) particularly shines – he is poignant and believable as Tzeitel’s timid suitor, emboldened by love.
Unlike many productions we have seen, this cast has a real Fiddler (Adam Borrego), and he is both a good musician and an integral part of the show.
The full cast of 31 actors provides a strong ensemble, with beautiful harmonies and intricate choreography. A highlight of any Fiddler is the bottle dance, and this cast really nails it – no Velcro or magnets hiding in the hats, just lots of practice, athleticism, and talent. Ashleigh Zijdemans’ skill as a choreographer will be missed, as she is leaving for work in San Francisco – and this production is a great send-off for this TITG mainstay.
The all-teen crew tackles the complexity of prerecorded music, delivering crisp sound that does not overwhelm cast voices. The beautiful set is simple enough that set changes are fast and seamless, complemented by the intricate and effective lighting.
Theater education, oft missing from today’s schools, is still crucial – and the C.A.S.T. program does a spectacular job of bringing local youth to the stage. At only $5.00/ticket, this is the best game in town, and we hope that the entire Forest Grove community shows this production the support it merits.
Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. runs through Sunday, August 25th at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove with shows at 7:00 pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and 2:30 pm on Sunday.