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"Fiddler on the Roof" closed with George Starkovich and Alex Galle-From, playing Teyve and The Fiddler, silhouetted against a blue backdrop. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.

Review: “Fiddler” feels big city

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Community theater gets a bad rap. The moniker brings to mind mediocre actors, ramshackle sets and costumes pilfered from the racks of the local Goodwill. The people in the audience only show up because their cousin plays Villager 1 or their little sister is working the lights.

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If these are your expectations walking into Two Harbors High School for a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” prepare to be proven wrong.

The Lake Superior Community Theater production has had its challenges, of course. The actors, musicians and crew are volunteers and director Paul Deaner said it was nearly impossible to get all 70 participants in one room at the same time during rehearsals.

As a result, there are imperfections. But the local talent, the rich scenery and the surprisingly “big” feel of the production easily overshadow the occasional shortcomings.

The musical, set in 1905 Russia, details the changing circumstances of a Jewish community. The main character, Teyve, must deal with familial drama in the form of increasingly independent daughters while at the same time, the Tsar is applying external pressure and anti-Semitism is growing throughout his homeland.

Parallels to current-day politics aside (does a controversial Russian leader and unrest in the former Soviet Union sound familiar?), the musical connects with its audience through recognizable archetypes. Young people threaten the established way of doing things, a minority population is forced from its home, but unconditional love keeps a family together – all familiar story lines.

The success of “Fiddler” lies in its humor and earnestness in sharing those themes. How else could a 50-year-old musical, set over a century ago, still keep smartphone-addicted audiences entertained for three hours?

The performance at THHS keeps spectators’ attention with a well-done show infused with some jaw-dropping moments.

One such moment occurs in a scene directly following the solemn Sabbath prayer. Teyve has agreed to marry off his oldest daughter to a rich, aging butcher and the whole male population of their small village is celebrating in the local inn, dancing and consuming copious amounts of bottled beverages. One dancer then breaks away from the group and performs an Olympics-worthy gymnastics routine, back-flipping, somersaulting and leaping across the stage.

At the end of the scene on Saturday, the director, seated in the middle of the audience, sprang from his seat, issued a deafening whoop and punched his fist in the air in recognition of Phillip Hommes’ flawless, invigorating performance. Deaner expressed perfectly what the rest of the audience seemed to be feeling.

Two scenes later, Teyve (played by George Starkovich) is describing a fabricated dream involving a small army of ghosts to his wife,

Golde ( Diane Dinndorf Friebe.) The main lights dim and red hues flood the stage as a dozen sheet-clad actors float toward the pair. The real shock comes when the deceased wife of the butcher shows up, flanked by grim reapers. Played by Lauren Burton, the ghost towers over the rest of the cast, illuminated by a yellow spotlight. How she rose the 10 feet remains a mystery, but the effect was mesmerizing.

Starkovich and Alex Galle-From were the standout cast members. Seasoned Silver Bay actor Starkovich never disappoints, and this role fits him like a glove. The highlight of his performance was during the “If I Were a Rich Man” scene — his dance moves rivaled those of Gwen Stefani, who pilfered the song for her 2004 hit “Rich Girl.”

Galle-From, a Berklee College of Music-trained viola player, embodies The Fiddler perfectly as part of the set and more than a character. His high level of skill is complemented by his seeming nonchalance. He brought much to his performance and much to the production

Throughout the performance there were occasional sharp notes from the orchestra, moments when the actors’ timing flagged or a soloist just couldn’t find the right note, but the enormous effort poured into this production by a group of small-town theater enthusiasts is evident.

Lake Superior Community Theater’s “Fiddler on the Roof” is bigger and more impressive than expected, and the audience demonstrated its appreciation and delight with a standing ovation on Saturday evening.

And it wasn’t one of those “we’re- Minnesota-nice-so-we’re-obligated-to do-this” standing ovations, either – it was a genuine foot-stomping, wolf-whistling, clap-until-your-hands-hurt ovation. Deaner and company deserved nothing less.

Go see it

What: “Fiddler on the Roof” by the Lake Superior Community Theater

Where: Two Harbors High School Auditorium

When: April 10-12 at 7 p.m.

Tickets: $12, $8 for students, available at www.lsct.us.

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