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|Princess summer spectacular with 'Fiddler'|
By Emily Arnold
Recently the Princess Theatre opened its Summer Production with "Fiddler on the Roof." This production was a spectacular display of local talent from Franklin Parish. Having been in several of the past summer productions it was an awesome opportunity for me to sit back and enjoy such a wonderful show from a patron's perspective.
This classic musical revolves around the life of a simple Jewish dairyman, Tevye (Dr. Jimmy Coughran) along with his wife Golde (Honny Eldridge) and five daughters who are living in the Russian village of Anatevka.
Tevye is faced with attempting to marry off his three eldest daughters according to the Jewish traditions that have been in his family for generations. However, the traditions of Tevye's ancestors are shattered as his three daughters stray from their father's wishes - and tradition - and assert their independence during this changing period in history.
Dr. Jimmy Coughran seemed born to inhabit the role of world-weary dairyman Tevye. He was a delight to watch and to hear, his showcase number "If I Were A Rich Man" was truly a pleasure. Coughran's rich, pleasing voice shone on several of his solo songs as the patriarchal figure. His Tevye let us in; he was vulnerable, yet firm and steeped in old ways. And Coughran hit all the comic paces. He had a generous presence, but knew when to ham it up.
Honny Eldridge, as Golde, knew how to deliver the laughs, as well. She triumphed in the role of the nagging wife. The three eldest daughters, Tzeitel (Betsy Lowe), Hodel (Kyle Ann Kauffman) and Chava (Elizabeth Ellington) gave great performances, lending an air of youth and independence to the performance. They were especially charming during the classic song "Match Maker" in which the choreography was playful and lively as the three girls sang about finding their perfect match.
David Stephens (Perchik) and Joey Cordill (an endearing, nervous wreck of a Motel) were strong, too. Scotty Knight was riotous in the wedding scene as Lazar Wolf and Bill Jonson was an engaging and hilarious Mordcha. As the rabbi, Johnny Hankins was very funny. Nelda Emfinger played a robust, gossipy Yente (could there be any other kind of yenta?) and Judge Jimbo Stephens played a firm Constable.
There were many touching and hilarious moments, many of them production numbers. "The Dream," where Tevye invents a wild nightmare to convince his wife to let daughter Tzeitel (Betsy Lowe) out of her engagement with butcher Lazar Wolf (Scotty Knight), was a surreal comic jewel, especially with the amazing performances by Faith Stephens and Kai Killingsworth as the ghosts of Grandma Tzietal and Fruma Sarah made the dream come to life!
In "To Life," the men's dancing practically explodes out of the tavern - and brings into sharp focus the uneasy coexistence between Anatevka's Jews and gentiles. One couldn't help but notice the lively dancing by Bill Jonson (Mordcha) and Princess newcomer Dr. George Gowan (Sasha) who proved to have some rhythm of his own.
The "Wedding Dance" rightfully brought down the house, and you'd have to have a heart of stone not to bring out your hankies for the candle lighting in "A Sabbath Prayer" and the plaintive "Chava Sequence" (beautifully danced by Elizabeth Ellington).
Other cast members included, Sarah Head as Shprintze, Meg Stephens as Bielke, Michael Harris as Fyedka, Nathan Roberts Jr. as Mendel, Barry Stevens as Avram, Mary Bess Haynes as Mirala, Wade Walley as Nachum, Allen Micheal Emfinger as Abram, Dakota Stephens as Eli, Riley Russell as Leah and the infamous Fiddler played by Noah Coughran.
Even the story's underlying hardship was always tempered with unrelenting humor. (If that's not insight into the Jewish character, what is?)
The music, along with lighting, made the entire production sublime with thanks to musicians Noble Ellington and Leigh Jonson as well as lighting and sound technicians Tommy Tims and Lisa Lowe. All of these great technicians made for a powerful and moving production.
Director Gene Thompson's staging was effective, especially when he brought in the whole cast to perform the choruses in the opening scene and the wedding scene, making the production itself seem a kind of community, a perfect effect for the tale.
The Princess production inhabited all those tensions, all those ideas, all that personality, all the fine music, and it boasted a smart design and many fine performances, too. This was a rousing and heartwarming show.
While the musical is about changing traditions, "Fiddler" proves some things are perfect the way they are. The Princess Theater's production is testament to that!