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Archive for February, 2019

Fiddler On the Roof
Book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Original Direction by Bartlett Sher
Original Choreography by Hofesh Shechter
Choreography Recreated by Christopher Evans
The Fox Theatre
January 29, 2019

Yehezkel Lazarov
Photo by Joan Marcus
Fiddler on the Roof North American Tour

This is Fiddler on the Roof, but not exactly as you may have seen it before. The national tour of Bartlett Sher’s most recent Broadway revival takes this time-honored classic and injects it with a fresh energy. It’s still the same show, essentially, but some staging changes and some especially strong performances highlight the strength of the material in a new and refreshing way, anchored by an especially strong leading performance and ensemble cast.

As beloved as Fiddler on the Roof is, one of the challenges to staging it is that, for most professional productions, the staging has strictly adhered to the original Jerome Robbins staging and choreography. As excellent as that is, if you see enough productions of the show, it can all seem too similar after a while. The most recent revival, while still using the Robbins staging and choreography as the basis, brought in a new choreographer, Hofesh Schechter, to change up some of the dances, and acclaimed director Bartlett Sher has added a simple but effective framing device to add an element of timeless transcendence to the story. These elements, along with an energetic, well-chosen cast, have brought a sense of vibrancy to this show that is especially refreshing. The story is the same, following Jewish milkman Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov) and his family in 1905 Tsarist Russia, but now, everything seems more immediate somehow. The relationships between Tevye and his wife, Golde (Maite Uzal) and his daughters, and between his three oldest daughers Tzeitel (Mel Weyn), Hodel (Ruthy Froch), and Chava (Natalie Powers) and their suitors Motel (Jesse Weil), Perchik (Ryne Nardecchia), and Fyedka (Joshua Logan Alexander) seem even more authentic and credible. From classic solo moments like “If I Were a Rich Man” to big production numbers like “To Life”, “Tevye’s Dream”, and especially the entire wedding sequence, the energy is readily apparent, with new relationship dynamics subtly suggested, and with a great deal of energy and heart. Even the poignant ending is given a new sense of timelessness and hope without denying the inherent sadness of the situation.

There’s a great cast here, as well, led by the dynamic, charismatic performance of Lazarov as Tevye. With a strong voice and excellent stage presence, Lazarov brings all the energy, charm, likability and complexity of Tevye to the stage, leading the cast with a powerful performance. He’s well supported by a strong ensemble, as well, with standout performances from Uzal as Golde, Carol Beaugard as the determined matchmaker Yente, Jonathan Von Mering as the lonely butcher Lazar Wolf, and especially all three daughter-suitor combinations, with Weyn and Weil having particularly excellent chemistry. There’s a strong singing and dancing ensemble supporting the leads, as well, bringing the village of Anatevka to life in one memorable scene after another, from the opening “Tradition” to the closing “Anatevka”.

Technically, this production is stellar, as well. The set by Michael Yeargan is detailed and versatile, featuring well-realized settings like Tevye’s house against a more changeable background backed by an imposing brick wall. The costumes by Catherine Zuber are detailed and authentic, maintaining a classic Fiddler look with a few small changes here and there. There’s also truly stunning lighting by Donald Holder that sets and maintains the mood of the show especially well, along with excellent sound design by Scott Lehrer and Alexander Neumann.

One of the real strengths of director Bartlett Sher in his revivals is that he’s able to maintain the essence and spirit of a show while also bringing a new sense of immediacy and connection for modern audiences. He’s done that again, remarkably well, in this new Fiddler on the Roof. It’s still the same show, but there’s something extra there that’s especially rewarding. It’s on stage at the Fox now. Go see it if you can.

Cast of Fiddler on the Roof]
Photo by Joan Marcus
Fiddler on the Roof North American Tour

The North American Tour of Fiddler on the Roof is playing at the Fox Theatre until February 10, 2019

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The Motherf**ker with the Hat
by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Carl Overly, Jr.
R-S Theatrics
January 26, 2019

Jesse Muñoz, Adam Flores, Aaron Dodd
Photo by Jill Lindberg
R-S Theatrics

The latest production from R-S Theatrics has an eye-catching title, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The Motherf**ker with the Hat is technically a comedy, but there’s a degree of sadness, and even tragedy there as well. It’s a character study, looking at complex people and situations, and R-S has assembled a strong local cast for this memorable St. Louis premiere.

The story is intense and challenging, but with a lot of comic dialogue and surprising situations, as well as richly defined characters. Jackie (Adam Flores) has recently been released from prison after serving time on drug charges, and he’s trying to get his life back together, staying sober with the help of a 12-step group. He’s just gotten a new job, and he’s hoping to celebrate with his girlfriend, Veronica (Sofia Lidia), but soon he discovers a hat in her apartment that doesn’t belong to him, making Jackie suspicious that Veronica may be cheating on him. He takes refuge at the house of his sponsor, Ralph D (Aaron Dodd) and his wife Victoria (Talessa Caturah), who are now in the “nutritional beverage” business. He also enlists the help of his reluctant Cousin Julio (Jesse Muñoz) in one of his schemes to deal with the hat situation. That’s about all I can say in terms of plot without spoiling too much, because this story definitely has its twists. Just know that things aren’t always as they seem, and Jackie learns that some people are not as trustworthy as they seem, while others might have more complex motives. Essentially, it’s a character study, also taking a look at the challenges facing someone in Jackie’s situation, as well as Veronica’s, and how easy it is for some people to take advantage of people in vulnerable situations. It’s a gritty, intense play highlighted by sharp dialogue, strong language, and raw interpersonal interactions.

The characters here are multi-faceted, as are the impressive performances from the cast. As Jackie, Flores manages to be likable, intense, impulsive, and vulnerable at the same time,. Dodd as the self-centred, bold-talking Ralph is also excellent, portraying a character who is more than he may initially seem. Lidia, as the conflicted, addicted Veronica, gives a convincing portrayal of a woman who’s caught in several difficult situations. Caturah, as the exasperated Victoria, is also impressive, as is Muñoz as probably the kindest character in the show, the questioning but supportive Cousin Julio. The character interactions are highly charged much of the time, and they are well portrayed here by the cast and through director Carl Overly, Jr.’s fast-paced staging.

The .Zack can be a difficult performance venue, with its high stage, odd sight lines and giant pillars, but this production uses the space well, opening up the staging so the performance space includes the area in front of the stage in addition to the stage itself. Taylor Gruenloh’s set design reflects the grittiness of the piece, with its effective representations of Veronica’s small apartment the versatile floor area that converts from Ralph’s place to Cousin Julio’s place with a few quick furniture changes. The costumes by Christina Rios suit the characters well, and there’s also evocative use of lighting by Todd Schaefer and impressive sound work from Mark Kelley.

R-S Theatrics is known for its memorable, challenging, St. Louis premiere productions, and its latest show is another example of this tradition. The Motherf**ker with the Hat is a crass, sharply characterized, sometimes brutally intense show that portrays its characters with their flaws on clear display. The characters aren’t always easy to like, but they’re always interesting. It may seem a little too bleak for some, especially for a comedy, but at R-S, it’s especially well staged, and it’s worth checking out.

R-S Theatrics is presenting The Motherf**ker with the Hat at the .Zack until February 10, 2019

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