This was, for me, my return to in-person theater, and I am extremely pleased to say it was an exceptional welcome back. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I arrived at Hill Auditorium. I bumped into a friend of mine who I didn’t know worked there and we expressed our excitement to see the show. My seat was on the mezzanine, and I began to try to deduce what the show would be like as I found my seat.
Hill had set out its extended stage, and had placed a few props here and there, mostly wooden crates, planks, and chairs. Tevye’s cart sat on the far side of the stage from me, the most recognizable prop from the musical. Behind the extended stage sat the Grand Rapids Symphony, the musicians were warming up, some slowly trickling in and finding their seats to join the rest of the cacophonous tuning session that precedes a performance. Then, one by one, the actors took stage. Their entrance wasn’t grand, hardly even noticed by the rest of the theater, and they simply took a seat on stage, waiting for the performance to begin. Finally, the lights lowered, a UMS representative introduced the show and offered thanks to the donors who made the production possible. They left the stage, and the Symphony began. A Fiddler started the show off with a remarkable solo, highlighting the skill of the Symphony and offering a wonderful instrumental introduction to the show. At this point, I still didn’t know what “lightly staged” meant. What followed was surprising, but entirely welcome in my opinion.
It turns out that “lightly staged” means that the actors would be operating with a very limited set. Instead of any structures or backgrounds, the actors performed directly in front of the symphony. The entirety of the musical was performed, every line, every conversation, every dance number. The dance numbers blew me away. The students who performed were amazing! They commanded the stage and the symphony faded away as I watched their performances. In fact, there were a number of times that I found myself just watching the musical, barely noticing that the Grand Rapids Symphony was sitting right behind the actors. There was nothing lost from the lack of a set, and in fact, during the more instrumental sections, it was really nice to be able to see the musicians directly.
The performance reinvigorated my interest in music and in the theater. I may be a bit more susceptible to that particular kind of pull toward artistic performances, but I would encourage anyone who is thinking about going to a performance to go! You won’t be disappointed. UMS has made a commitment to making their patrons feel safe and comfortable, and the enjoyment of seeing a performance is definitely worth the time.