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Holladay Journal

Olympus High theater tackles tradition and change with ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

Nov 06, 2018 01:55PM ● By Jana Klopsch

The cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Olympus sings and dances to “Tradition.” (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

The Olympus High theater department performed the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” in October. With impressive sets, a student-led orchestra and confident singers, they have a lot to be proud of.

When attending a high school production of anything, one expects to be a somewhat forgiving audience member. After all, it’s part of the learning process to put on a theater production. But October’s presentation of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Olympus High didn’t need much forgiving. The sets were excellent, the orchestration live and the singing and acting competent. 

Robin Edwards has taught theater since 1990 and directed this year’s production at Olympus.  Her first experience with seeing “Fiddler” as a child “didn’t ring true in my world. It was such a foreign moment for me. But what a wonderful insight into another world. Theatre does that. It teaches. It shares,” wrote Edwards in the program notes. 

It was a good chance for education. “We talked (to the students) about the importance and meaning of the Jewish customs and traditions. We tried to parallel religious experiences from our own lives,” Edwards said of the production, which takes place in Russia in 1905. The students’ performances showed that they took the lessons to heart. 

Edwards wanted to give as many students as possible a chance to perform, so the production’s leads were double cast — the “Fiddler” cast and the “Roof” cast. “We have been double casting for a while because of the talent level at Olympus. And leads are ensemble members on the night(s) they are not leads. This teaches the importance of the ensemble,” Edwards said. 

The big opening number “Tradition” brought the entire cast onstage singing and dancing. The chorus of “Tradition, Tradition! Tradition!” was beautifully sung, with a full choral sound and tight harmonies. 

Tevye, the main character and patriarch of a conservative and poor Jewish family with five daughters, had several solos. In the “Fiddler” cast he was played by McKinley Nielsen (Collin Campbell in the “Roof” cast). Nielsen gave a strong performance. He used a Russian accent, danced around like a chicken alone on stage and frequently addressed God. His singing voice was confident and mature beyond his years.  

The plot revolved in part around Tevye’s daughters’ choices. Instead of an arranged marriage by the village matchmaker (Eliza Monson in the “Fiddler” cast/Anna Johnson in the “Roof” cast), Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava each chose to marry for love. Tevye supported them as best he could, but when Chava marries outside the faith, it is more than he can comprehend. “How can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break,” Tevye said. 

Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava were played in the “Fiddler” production by Megan Jensen, Megan Hardy and Mary Nydeggar. All were capable actresses, singers and dancers. Hardy’s voice was especially well-developed and lovely. The daughters in the “Roof” cast were played by Ashlyn Hunt, Eliza Hebdon and Erin Probst.

Perhaps the best casting was Cami Dumond as Golde, Tevye’s wife. Dumond looked and sounded the part without looking like she was “acting.” One of the best cast voices, Dumond’s had just the right amount of control and flourish, and her comic ability was evident in the ghostly “Tevye’s Dream” scene. Golde in the “Roof” cast was played by Katie Hut.

The staging and sets deserve praise and included a cottage set front and back for the family, rolling 3D hills and trees, and set projections onto a background canvas. Costumes reflected the culture — all wore head coverings, most men wore beards and prayer shawls, women’s dresses were simple. 

And yes, there really was a fiddler on a roof. She was played in both casts by violinist Faith Driggs. She sat on the roof and played, or appeared walking through the scene at times when Tevye’s world is most unsteady.  

The external conflict in the production is a historical one. Local Russian leaders were authorized by the Tsar to “demonstrate” against the Jews. Known as “pogroms,” they gave constables carte blanche to terrorize and push out Jews from their lands. The first demonstration occurs during Tzeitel’s wedding to Motel (Colton Ronna in the “Fiddler” cast/James Knight in the “Roof” cast). The end of the play shows the Jewish community of Anatevka being forced out and dispersed all over the world: Siberia, Israel, Poland and the US. 

For a play filled with heavy themes and plots, there was a lot of laughter. Much of it came from Nielsen and Dumond as they ably delivered their humorous lines and quirky small-town Jewish sayings. Nielsen was sincere in his “Are you there God? It’s me — Tevye,” asides to make requests and explore his feelings with his Maker. 

Show choreographer Susan DeMill stated in her program notes, “Fiddler isn’t a sparkly show submerged with show-stopping production numbers; it is a musical brimming with meaning.” The trick was to catch the meaning and create sympathy in current audiences. Olympus students can be proud of their gentle and respectful treatment of a people that might seem so “other” and their ability to learn and perform this ambitious musical.