“Fiddler on the Roof” Is A Winner

Student Production Wows Audience at Midtown Arts Center

Reviewed by Tom Jones

August 19, 2017

Twenty or so years from now the star performers at local theatres just might look back at this year, and say, “Remember when we received a standing ovation at MAC when we were young students in ‘Fiddler on the Roof?” That same group of performers may continue to receive “standing ovations” wherever they go, as they possess boundless talent and enthusiasm. Today they are the stars of tomorrow.

PHOTO CREDIT: Leah Allen

Forty-six students at the Academy at Midtown Arts Center provided three performances of their student training achievement in mid-August of 2017. At the “welcome” provided prior to the curtain opening, the audience learned that the production this season is a result of just three weeks of rehearsals. Jalyn Courtenay Webb and Michael Lasris, the show’s producer and director noted that finalizing the show is actually a miracle, with unbelievable odds that a show of this caliber could be completed in so little time, and with a cast of not-yet-professionals. The show itself echoes one of the productions songs, “Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Leah Allen

“Fiddler” is the tale of the Jewish milkman, Tevye, the kindly father of five daughters, questioning why God has made life so difficult for him in Russia of 1905. He and his wife of 25 years, Golde, live in a tiny village of Anatevka, accepting their poverty as a way of life, handed to them by “Tradition.” Tim Watson is amazing as the middle-age Tevye. He has a marvelous voice, and incredible stage presence. He will begin his college studies this year in Laramie. It will be interesting to follow his career, and I am curious how long before he will turn up as a brilliant Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” or as Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” Avree Linne is a student at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins. I was slow to warm up to her. But midway through the production either she became brilliant, or I just began to appreciate her talents, and I came away from the show with awe for her skills.

The list goes on and on (and on and on, as there are 46 young persons in the show). Among the standout supporting players are Meg Brown as Yente, the matchmaker; Lexi Reese, Daye Waldner and Zoe Maiberger as the oldest of the five daughters, and Jack Bramhall-Heck as the shy tailor, Motel, in love with the oldest daughter, Tzeitel. Meg Brown (Yente) and Jack Bramhall-Heck (Motel) have the flashiest roles, and light up their every scene. Also of particular interest is Nic Rhodes who is the “Fiddler” at the beginning of the show and turns up frequently to provide the inner feelings of the show’s leading man, Tevye.

“Fiddler” is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and a book by Joseph Stein. The original Broadway production opened in 1964, and was the first musical theater run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. It received numerous awards, became basis for a highly successful movie in 1971, and continues to play on stages throughout the world.

The August 2017 production is the conclusion of this summer’s youth Academy endeavors. It is a winner in every respect. The sound and lighting are excellent, the costuming is very good. Perhaps the highlight of the production is the movement of the performers – getting so many persons on and off the stage so frequently and efficiently, and have them performing so many choreographic skills throughout the entire show. Director Lasris credits Dominique Atwater, Adam Bourque, Cassidy Cousineau, and Emily Erkman, for their work as choreographers and musical directors. Artistic Director is Jalyn Courtenay Webb, who also produced the show. Webb commented that she is personally impressed with the vocal skills of the ensemble, noting that she has rarely heard the show sound so good.

I have been a little hesitant to see student productions at local schools. Shame on me. Whenever you have a friend or family member that you know is performing in a local student production, find out more about it, and dash to the auditorium. The Academy at Midtown Arts Center is one of the most imminent theatre schools in the area. Enrollment for their next season is open now, with the Fall Schedule set from September 11 to November 16.

Congratulations to everyone connected with this delightful “Fiddler” production. I’ll be on the lookout to see where so many of you will be performing next!

“Fiddler on the Roof”
Where: The Academy of Midtown Arts Center
750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
Online: Midtown Art Center

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“Newsies –The Musical” Lights Up Huge Tuacahn Stage

Tale of Real-Life Newsboys Strike in New York City in 1899 is Enormously Endearing

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 8, 2017

A rag tag group of young newspaper sellers made their own headlines in 1899 in New York City. They fought the establishment, demanding slightly higher wages, and respect. Their exuberant story has found an equally-exuberant audience in Padre Canyon outside St. George, Utah, this summer.

This is the 22nd season for Tuacahn Center for the Arts – with its enormous stage and open-air backdrop of the red cliffs of Southern Utah. This summer their audiences are treated to “Shrek The Musical,” “Mamma Mia!,” and the terrific Disney’s “Newsies.” I didn’t plan to see all three shows, so selected the one I knew the least about, and ended up being swept away with “Newsies” this summer.

What a great choice. In 1992 the musical film “Newsies” turned up in movie theatres. Music is by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, and a book by Harvey Firestein. The movie became a cult favorite, and became a Broadway musical in 2012, playing 1,005 performances. The Broadway production reportedly cost about five million dollars to stage, and recouped the initial investment in seven months. At that time, it was the fastest of any Disney musical on Broadway to turn a profit. A movie version of the theatrical production had a three-day release this past February, grossing more than three million dollars

As produced at Tuacahn there is an underlying feeling of ultimate joy, as the young boys struggle for survival in the tough streets of early New York. Their story could have resulted in a dreary look at dreary lives, but has succeeded in rising above the dire circumstances to become an anthem of survival for the city of New York and ultimately for the nation.

The production’s success relies not only on the basic story, but on the amazingly athletic dancing of the performers, the heartfelt music of the composers, and the story itself. Newspaper delivery boy Jack Kelly tells his disabled friend, Crutchie, of his desire to someday leave New York City, and move to find his dreams in the faraway western town of Sante Fe. He is a talented artist, with no family, no money, and has his share of troubles with the law. His story could be replicated throughout the entire cast of orphans and homeless young men of the time living on the edge of society in hostile New York City.

The leads in “Newsies” include Ryan Farnsworth as Jack Kelly, Jordan Aragon as his friend, Crutchie, Daniel Scott Walton as Davey, Will Haley as Davey’s brother Les, and Whitney Winfield as Katherine, the newspaper reporter who comes to their aid. The cast is enormous and featured roles include Matthew Tyler as Joseph Pulitzer and Jennifer Leigh Warren as Medda Larkin. Pulitzer has become immortalized by his financial success, and by the literary awards bearing his name. In “Newsies” he is shown in a very different light, with the audience wanting to “boo” his every appearance.

There is always a danger of performing a show outside on summer evenings. There were two (or maybe three) drops of light rain following the intermission, but the total effect of an evening outside on a wonderful summer night was one of sheer wonder. A visit to Tuacahn becomes an “event” all its own. At the top of the huge set are the living quarters of the young newsies. Their laundry was hanging out in windows, being blown slightly by a southern Utah breeze, and the incredible dancing on the stage beneath, providing its own storm of delight. A woman in the audience noted she had already seen the show more than ten times. That might be overdoing it a little, but “Newsies” is a true triumph.

Disney’s “Newsies”
Where: Tuacahn Center for the Arts, the base of Padre Canyon,1100 Tuacahn, Ivins, Utah, 84738
Website: www.tuacahn.org

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