Newspaper Article 1972 – ‘Fiddler’ is mighty fine entertainment

Critic says:

‘Fiddler’ is mighty fine entertainment

The Napier Operatic Society will lose nothing of its already high reputation with the production of “Fiddler On The Roof,” which opened to an enthusiastic audience in the Hastings Municipal Theatre on Saturday.

First-night audiences are frequently composed of friends and biased well-wishers, so that an audience response is not always a reliable indication of the intrinsic merit of a show. Let me say, then, that “Fiddler” is presented to such a high standard of professional expertise that it requires no audience claques to send it away to a good start.

Possibly I am one of the few people in Hawke’s Bay who, until Saturday, knew nothing of the music or story of this play, so that it came to me completely fresh. This piece is no more moulded in the standard pattern of musical comedy, than Hamlet” is a farce; “Fiddler” is a musical play, in which the songs and dancing are an integral part of the story.

For those, like me, who know nothing of the play’s background, it should be explained that the action takes place in a Jewish settlement in Tsarist Russia shortly after the turn of the century, when the first stirrings of revolution are becoming apparent.

It is a story as old as time and as new as tomorrow; a story of man’s attempt to cling to established customs and beliefs in the face of changing times and the disappearance of old traditions. But superimposed on this is the story of Jewish persecution through the ages.

PRINCIPAL architect of this successful presentation is Robert Houston in the leading role of Tevye, the poor dairyman with five daughters. This was a performance little short of magnificent. Mr Houston is rarely off stage and he is the focal point for most of the action. The quality of his singing has always been above reproach, but on this occasion he is called upon to carry a strongly dramatic role, and he succeeds in creating Tevye as a man of essential simplicity, but with a multi-dimensional character of many moods. At times of crisis Tevye holds conversations with God, and Mr Houston handled these moments with a child-like trust and simplicity that was poignant and moving.

As his wife Golde, Diana Stewart also created a rounded characterisation that complemented Mr Houston’s playing, and she presented an authentic picture of a bustling peasant wife.

THE THREE principal daughters – Robyn Houston as Tzeitel, Jan Fulford as Hodel and Lynda Poynter as Chava – all gave well-defined performances, as did their respective husbands Digby Edgecombe as Motel, David Pipe as Perchik and Hugh Sweeney as Fyedka. I was especially impressed with the work of Digby Edgecombe, whose characterisation was particularly clearcut as the hesitant and impecunious tailor.

Others among the major principals whose work stood out included Sadie Brown as Yente the matchmaker and Chrisopher [Christopher] Gibbs as Lazar, the rich butcher and unsuccessful suitor of Tzeitel.A revolving stage enabled the many scene changes to be undertaken quickly and was particularly useful in the final scene when it was used without scenery to create a moving picture of the exodus of the villagers.

Mention must also be made of some fine Cossack dancing by a quartet of dancers comprising Robin Rickey, Malcolm Kenah, Wayne Andersen and Peter Dixon. For once we were spared the intrusion of a troupe of dancing girls, with more enthusiasm than technique, to hold up the action.

ANY CRITICISMS of this show must inevitably be personal preference. For instance, I found the candle-lit scene of “Sabbath Prayer” rather too gimmicky for my liking and the opening of the walls of the house to reveal a group of villagers seemed out of key with the simplicity of the action; the costumes of the menfolk were so alike they appeared to be a uniform, and Tevye the poor man looked rather better dressed than Lazar the rich man. I question, too, whether a Jewish rabbi in Russia in 1905 would use a blatant Americanism such as going “some place else.”

The non-speaking role of the fiddler is played by Bernie Reade, dressed in a scarlet tail-coat and emerald green pants – and looking remarkably like a leprechaun from Guide Ireland. He sits on the roof for most of the time, fiddling away merrily, and gives point to the traditional symbolism of the title. I would have preferred to see him remain aloof from the players, rather than stepping down and joining them on occasions.But these are minor carpings only, and do not detract from the essential quality of the piece.

JAMES MORGAN as producer, Cec Fitzwater as musical director, and Leigh Jones as choreographer have undoubtedly done it again. The music is impeccable and a delight to the ear; the production is brilliant in conception and almost flawless in execution. In fact this production of “Fiddler On The Roof” is mighty fine entertainment. – E.B.

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Business / Organisation

Napier Operatic Society Inc., Hastings Light Opera Company

Date published

August 1972

Format of the original

Newspaper article


  • Wayne Anderson
  • Sadie Brown
  • Peter Dixon
  • Digby Edgecombe
  • Cec Fitzwater
  • Jan Fulford
  • Christopher Gibbs
  • Robert Houston
  • Robyn Houston
  • Leigh Jones
  • Malcolm Kenah
  • James Morgan
  • David Pipe
  • Lynda Poynter
  • Bernie Reade
  • Robin Rickey
  • Diana Stewart
  • Hugh Sweeney

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