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November 07, 1981 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1981-11-07

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ARTS

...

The Michigan Daily.

Saturday, November 7, 1981

Page 5

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'Fiddler' performed with flair

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Mark Twain: "Few things are harder to put up with than
the annoyance of a good example."

By Lesa Doll
SOME OLD musicals just never die,
no matter how many times they've
been performed, by everyone from
professional theater troupes to high
school drama clubs. They're safe
productions to run. But although we all
know the plot and could sing along to all
the songs, Fiddler on the Roof-running
at the Power Center tonight and
tomorrow-manages to entertain.
Fiddler can be a challenging under-
taking when approached with the right
amount of enthusiasm. The story of
Tevye, and his battle with personal and
societal readjustment can be a power-
ful, often witty micro- and macrocosm
of Jewish tradition.
The musical is filled with the "com-
mon sense" philosophy epitomized by
Tevye's observation that "without
tradition, our lives would beas shaky as
a fiddler on the roof."
Musket's performance of Fiddler is
an adequate, well-intentioned effort;
the production picked up momentum
desperately needed opening night after
a rather cumbersome first act. The
opening scene, which introduces a
village steeped in tradition, lacked the
robustness and verve that should have
instantly grabbed the sympathy of the
audience. The rather haphazard
blocking also went awry in this
prologue, creating a confused, chaotic
dance scene with no visual center.
After their rather disappointing start,
the company seemed to become more
cohesive, more charismatic and
definitely more relaxed. This gradual
change was led by Tevye (Joshua
Peck) who, after an initial tendency to
over-exaggerate the mannerisms of the
sensitive but foreboding father, fell
comfortably into his character and
regained an eloquence that had been
missing.
As Tevye, Peck creates the character
of a community and family
leader-outwardly obstinate yet inwar-
dly flexible. It has often been said that a
good Tevye makes a good Fiddler. In
Musket's production, Peck contributed
strong vocals as well as a natural stage
presence that add a charm and
charisma from which the rest of the
cast draws.
Tevye's daughter, Tzeitel (Marie
Robert), and her poor suitor Motel
(Marty Abramson) as well as, Hodel
(Ellen Boyle) and Perchik (Rich
Subar) were also easily distinguishable
from the rest of the company. Their
sense of professionalism and ease
carried into and smoothed the rough
scenes-the scenes in which dancers
blatantly missed their choreographies
and the lighting technician ~missed his
cues. The cameos in which these
couples informed Tevye of their intents
to marry were two of the most delicate,
enjoyable moments of the production.

Additional rare moments were the
beautifully orchestrated and delicately
illuminated "Sabbath Prayer" and the
mournful, reminiscent wedding scene,
"Sunrise, Sunset." Collectively, these
pieces realized the deepest potential of
the company-vocals. Elaborately in-
terwoven with the finely executed
musical score, the choral arrangemen-
ts were sentimentally touching and
finely performed.
A major problem with Musket's
production of Fiddler was the dancing,
which requires some level of expertise
in both traditional Jewish dance and the
exhausting, fine technique of Russian
dance. The original choreo-
graphies - chilling and beautiful
when done by fine dancers-seem so
strained and tiresome that the viewer
has the incessant fear the performers
would collapse. Despite these distrac-
tions, the majority of the company

members perform sufficiently as dan-
cers, vocalists, and actors-for a
University theater company.
Another problem opening night was
with lighting and set design. The rather
juvenile set, which swayed in the
background and often failed to utilize
even half of the stage's potential,
presented serious problems for the
believability of the story. Tevye's
home, for example, was a cardboard
sketch that hung and swung in mid-air
as the performers visibly entered the
set from the sides. Often, the perfor-
mers were not yet in character when
they entered the scene, and the illusion
that they had created of Jews surviving
in Czarist Russia was partially
dispelled.
Also inexcusable were the frequent
lighting mishaps that should have been
prevented by practice during dress
rehearsal. In one cameo scene, the

spotlight remained just to the right of
Tevye for several minutes, and it
seemed a remedy was not even attem-
pted. In the softly-lit wedding scene,
full stage lights came up during one of
the most sensitive, emotional moments,
evoking a few chuckles from the
audience.
The back stage lights were also
arranged rather haphazardly, and were
pointed at an angle from which the
bulbs were unavoidly visible.
Despite its flaws-mostly production
and set problems-Musket's Fiddler is
a good one. Tickets are still available
for tonight's show at 8 and Sunday's
show at 2 p.m.

The wit and
wisdom of
.Mark Twain

By Dave Paton,
OTHING HAS the power to add
Nleaven to'bur everyday life like a
good splash of wit, Mark Twain had a
wit that can come only through a com-
plete understanding of people; to learn
about Twain is to learn about one's self.
Tonight and tomorrow there will be an
opportunity for reacquaintance with
this wisdom and humor, when Hal
Holbrook brings his one-man
show-Mark Twain Tonight!-to the
Michigan Theatre.
Few have grasped the nature of
America better than Samual Clemens,
better known as Mark Twain. In the
early national rhetoric one senses the
air of men blazing a new trail through
humian history.
However, it didn't take long for cooler
heads-such as Twain-to perceive a lot-
of , problems with the shining ideals of
the' new century. By the time the fron-
tier in the West closed, the hopes of
America as a New World Eden were
killed for all but the richest and mdst
miyopic.
In his fiction, Twain struggled with
the gaps between the America he saw,
'and the America he wanted to see. He
looked back on his childhood in pre-
Civil War Missouri wistfully, and at the
sahe time gazed eagerly to the
Or:mises of a technological future.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, Twain masterfully explores the
jilight of an individual who can only lose
his'identity in the effort to confront the
American world, and must flee in the
erid. Yet he never lost his fascination
with the Tom Sawyer archetype who
Swould be such an effortless success in
ouwfculture.
I As the 19th century drew to its close,
Thvain suffered a series of financial and
personal setbacks which affected his
attitude towards his world. Later works
like A Connecticut Yankee in King Ar-
thur's Court, reflect these events and
indicate his growing disenchantment
With the industrial, technological
America rising from the ashes of the
Civil War. When he died in 1910, Twain
was cynical and doubtful of man's
capacity to handle the new toys of in-
dhistrial civilization.
Whatever he was, Twain was an in-
tensely American author. His keen sen-
se of the contradictions of the American
nation continue to strike a sensitive
chord in us today, judging by the
prolonged commercial success of his
books.

Hal Holbrook, stage and screen actor
of some distinction, has been perfor-
ming as Twain for 27 years (around his
other commitments to movies and
television). He conceived the idea out of
a theatre project at Denison University
during the late 1940s, and has since
developed the show out of research and
long performance.
Holbrook now has 12 hours of Twain
material at his disposal; he chooses two
hours of it each night, depending on his
mood and the audience. He has done
1500 shows as Twain, and has toured
with Mark Twain Tonight! for part of
every year since 1954.
Arbecoll Theatrics-operated by
Russell Collins, a University
graduate-is promoting the show.
Tickets are more expensive than Ann
Arbor audiences are used to; but
then, Ann Arbor audiences aren't
used to this kind of show. It may
well be worth the expense for a night of
reminisces of one of America's first and
finest literary artists.

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