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Review: Folkestone Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society, Fiddler on the Roof

By What's On reporter

Fiddler on the Roof, composed by Jerry Bock and with a book by Joseph Stein and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, has proved to be one of the world’s best-loved musicals since its first staging in 1964. It was the first musical to run for 3,000 performances on Broadway and was just as successful in London and around the world.

Unlike most modern musicals, which are ‘sung-through’ and so feature no spoken dialogue, Fiddler on the Roof - set in a Jewish shtetl (village) of Anatevka in Russia in the first decade of the 20th century - is very much a musical play. It tells the story of the affable, warm-hearted, God-fearing, milkman Tevye, his wife Golde, the courtships of their three eldest daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava and their lives in the gossipy, close-knit, community. They’re a witty lot, these Anatevkans, and even the Rabbi has some good one-liners e.g. when he’s asked whether there’s a blessing for the Tsar, he replies: A blessing for the Tsar? Certainly. ‘May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!’

The Fiddler (Karen Prineas) plays for Tevye, the milkman (Stephen Hawkins)
The Fiddler (Karen Prineas) plays for Tevye, the milkman (Stephen Hawkins)

If performed well, the impression the musical communicates of life in the shtetl that no-one wants to leave, along with the powerful and highly emotional plotted story, and unforgettable melodies, make Fiddler on the Roof one of the best theatrical experiences. The Folkestone-Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society (FHODS) production, staged at the Tower Theatre, Folkestone, was a truly delightful production and offered a wonderful gusto and energy which made it actually superior to several professional performances this reviewer has seen in the past.

Directed by Paul Sherman, who coaxed great performances from his talented cast, the production featured the gifted and beautifully-voiced Stephen Hawkins as Tevye, alongside Alice Hawkins as Golde, his real-life wife. This must have made the famous duet Do you love me? a multi-layered emotional experience for both them and the audience.

Tevye the milkman and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof from Folkestone-Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society
Tevye the milkman and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof from Folkestone-Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society

Sophia Jones and Isabella Jones, real-life sisters, gave powerful and emotional performances as Tzeitel and Hodel respectively, with Sophia. Scarlet Simpson, a young actress with great stage presence, completed the trio of daughters of marriageable age. The girls’ three adoring swains in this pre-Plenty of Fish world - Adam Sellors (Motel), Simon Gillan (Perchik) and Fyedka (Oliver Tatt) - acted with perfect conviction and, like their ladies, sang splendidly.

The student Perchik (Simon Gillan) and Tevye's second daughter Hodel (Isabella Jones) together with Tevye (Stephen Hawkins). The fiddler was played by Karen Prineas and the ghost of Fruma Sarah by Jeanette Lewis.
The student Perchik (Simon Gillan) and Tevye's second daughter Hodel (Isabella Jones) together with Tevye (Stephen Hawkins). The fiddler was played by Karen Prineas and the ghost of Fruma Sarah by Jeanette Lewis.

Karen Prineas was the eponymous Fiddler, while Graham Burgess was a charmingly embittered Lazar Wolf, who hopes Tzeitel will marry him and run his butcher’s shop with him but has to face the fact that she finds him too offal.

Jeanette Lewis was truly terrifying as Fruma-Sarah - the ghost of Lazar Wolf’s departed wife, whom Tevye pretends to Golde to have seen in a dream warning him against allowing Tzeitel to marry Lazar Wolf.

Andrew Hedges was musical director and keyboards player, while Jasmine King provided the demanding choreography. Sarah Smith produced the show and Ben Laverty was stage manager. Giuliano Bocci was lighting designer, and at his very best in the scary dream sequence, when I wished there was a sofa in the theatre I could have hidden behind.

By James Essinger

The ghost of Fruma-Sarah (Jeanette Lewis) appears in Tevye the milkman’s dream in the Folkestone-Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society show
The ghost of Fruma-Sarah (Jeanette Lewis) appears in Tevye the milkman’s dream in the Folkestone-Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society show

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