South Simcoe Theatre in the heart of Cookstown was our date spot last night. Co-creator and technical director David Peachey and myself, enjoyed an array of sights, sounds, and emotions ranging from fun to sombre in last evenings performance “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Taking notes on the performance during Intermission

Boy, do I have a lot to say for this one! I am still new to reviewing, so please bear with me. This is also the largest cast on a performance I have yet to see and review in community theatre. This was one thing that impressed me most – the wide range of ages on the stage, one as young as about 6 or 7 years! I will get to this later though.

Honestly, I had heard of this story, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in my younger years, but am ashamed to say I had never actually seen or read the story. However, this wasn’t so bad as I then had no idea what to expect from director Debbie Collin’s adaptation!

Because of the layout of the theatre, and the large cast, director Debbie Collins made the most of the space. The aisle’s on either side of the centre seating were both lit and used for more performance space. This allowed also for the audience to become more immersed in the show. The show started out strong with Teyve, the impoverished, Jewish father of 5 young girls, played by Vern Bignell. Teyve began by walking forlornly down the left aisle way, and soon after, the entire company was on stage and in the aisle ways singing the Prologue ‘Tradition’. This set us up for knowing that the village, Anatevka, was a poverty stricken community but with high standards and values in their traditions. When this song was performed and everyone was on stage, I was so impressed with the quality of the choreography as well as the professionalism of singing from all characters that I was very excited to see more – and normally I am not the type for musicals myself. I must say, the entire cast kept the stage lively, exciting and fun, without distraction. I was shocked to see how many people could be on stage all at once, dancing, singing, being rowdy, all without a blunder! Not only for this song, but for the upcoming ones as well that featured the entire company. Unless I have missed it somewhere in the programme, I cannot find his or her name, but would like to shout out to the choreographer(s)!

Teyve and his wife, Golde played by Nancy Chapplee Smokler, had 5 charming and beautiful young girls. Tzeitel, Chelsea-Alana Stephens, the eldest child, was passionate, strong willed, took her fathers demands the most seriously it seemed, yet, was desperately in love with Motel, whom her father denied. Chava played by Samantha Aucoin was engaging, mature, intelligent and demure. I must give an extra shout out though to Sophia Fracassi who played Hodel. This was her first time on the South Simcoe Theatre stage, and she was the first that caught my eye as a standout actress. Her singing was absolute perfection, her voice very well trained. Her charismatic demeanour on stage, her energy, expression, all kept me very enthralled in her part as the precocious, fun loving and free spirited character she was as Hodel. The first thing I thought was that this girl is going places! The youngest two girls of the five, Shprintze (Madison Dunkley) and Bielke (Ava Simpson) were both very impressive at such a young age! Madison is already directing her first student written play for the Georgian Bay Festival. I could not believe it when I learned little Bielke is only in second grade! She has spent two summers in a program through SST called “Crazy Shorts”. This has certainly paid off, as at such a young age, she is confident, and even with her tiny stature, never goes unnoticed! Both of these young ladies should be proud as they are already accomplished and noticed in the community theatre scene!

Madelyn Arcand of course cannot go unnoticed for the Fiddler. At only 15 years old, she already has expansive experience performing as first violin in the Eastview Orchestra, as well as several recitals. Playing on the SST stage though, was her first (and hopefully not last) in theatre work!

Vern Bignell as Teyve was a multitude of things to me. He was a caring, yet stubborn father, who needed to follow tradition but couldn’t turn down the happiness of any of his daughters (almost). As an actor, he is hilarious. His mannerisms and quirkiness in this character were endearing. The way the tone of his voice would hit peaks and valleys several times in a sentence was lovable. When this would be paired with a solo, for example, “If I Were a Rich Man”, it would make for a most comical and lively performance that both drew you in to loving his sweet heart, as well as even his wacky and sometimes ludicrous “traditions”.

Stephen Dobby debuted for the first show on SST stage this year as Perchik – just as in my review of Little Shop of Horrors last season, Stephen did a fine job! The contrast of characters in Fiddler on the Roof and in Little Shop of Horrors, shows he is a dynamic and compelling actor, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next!

I really have been excited to make mention of Sean Derraugh, the clarinettist throughout the performance. When he first came out, I thought “there is no way he is actually playing that, is he?” but soon realised I was very wrong! Honestly – WOW! I don’t think I have ever been so impressed with a musician on stage a community theatre performance in my life. Though I am no music expert at all, not only was he technically excellent at playing the clarinet, but how he was able too for so long and on such a busy and crowded stage with all of the commotion going on around him, with the entire company circling and dancing and singing around him. I didn’t hear a note falter once. It was authentic and absolutely brilliantly played. I am so glad he was found for this role as it really added to a lot of my love for some of those scenes! On a side note, Sean plays at special occasions and has his own website

One thing David mentioned to me on intermission was that he didn’t even feel like he was seeing a “show”. He loved the fluidity of the performance and how it seemed so “unstaged” for lack of a better word. We both felt like we were just watching these real people go about their real lives.

Barb Canning and Bev Cully were responsible for Set design and Set building and painting. This was was extraordinary. Several backdrops beautifully painted, as well as dynamic in that they could open and close like a story book between scenes. I’d never seen a set work like that before and I was inspired by that creativity.

I know that there are so many others to point out for the creation of this production of Fiddler on the Roof. Each and every one of these people with their talents came together to create this fantastic work of art. Their passions and expertise and love for theatre do not go unnoticed.

You just have to see this sensational performance for yourself!

Performance Details:

Running Thursdays – Sundays at South Simcoe Theatre until November 19, 2017

1 Hamilton Street, Cookstown ON

Tickets: $23