Fiddler is currently being revived on Broadway for the fourth time, featuring Alfred Molina (who will be seen as Dr. Octopus in the film Spider Man 2 this summer). Actors' Playhouse Artistic Director David Arisco [see our interview with Arisco]now leads his cast through turn of the century Russia in their own stellar rendition. Assisted by Barbara Flaten, Arisco directs himself and 35 other members with the bravado of ease. With a stunning set, sound orchestra, and precise choreography, this Actors' Playhouse production seems ready for award contention this fall.
Joseph Stein’s libretto focuses on Anatevka, a small Russian village back in 1905. It is a day in the life of Tevye, everyone’s favorite dairyman (Arisco), his wife Golde (Margot Moreland), and their five daughters. Tradition bleeds in Anatevka where daughters get married off to well-off suitors and sons work hard to earn every keep. Golde enlists a matchmaker (Elayne Wilks) to marry off the eldest daughter Tzeitel (Trista Moldovan), much to her dismay, to butcher Lazar Wolf (Marty Ross, appearing in his 31st Fiddler production). Tzeitel has other ideas in mind as she and Motel (Brian M. Golub), a timid tailor, plan to get married, asking for Tevye’s permission.
Revolutionary ideas arrive in the form of Perchik (Christopher A. Kent), a student from Kiev who brings a more updated nuance to Anatevka, much to the villagers’ confusion. He falls hard for Hodel (Genevieve Koch), Tevye’s second, more outspoken daughter. But things get really dicey when Chava (Gwen Hollander), Tevye’s third eldest daughter, attracts a Gentile Russian suitor (Sean Vigue), testing Tevye’s faith and devotion to their Jewish heritage. This starts a domino effect of events leading to the whole town being forced to leave behind the world they know and love.
Stein’s book, based on stories by Sholom Aleichem, is still relevant today. There are still places that keep certain traditions alive while encountering conflicts and prejudices from other groups. Isolation, segregation and being ostracized play so many parts in Stein’s story that it’s a wonder that we still face these truths 40 years later.
The main grace of this musical is the tuneful score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Keeping this in mind, Eric Alsford’s musical direction is crisp as his orchestra keeps the tempos moving. Songs like "Tradition," featuring booming voices, and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," showcasing coffee blending harmonies, are easy to recognize. It is nice to hear a live orchestra instead of performers trying to keep up with recorded music.
Barbara Flaten’s choreography has players moving in a rhythmic cadence during the opening number, "Tradition." Every clap and stomp is on point as the ensemble moves well together. Flaten comes off like a maestro in the most difficult sequence, the “bottle dance” during Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding.
There are too many good performances to count - top honorable mentions go to Margot Moreland, Trista Moldovan, Elayne Wilks, and Christopher Kent. Moreland’s portrayal of Tevye’s wife shows off Golde’s toughness with rapid wit. Moreland is a great straight man to Teyve’s comedic mishaps. Moldovan does a good job giving eldest daughter Tzeitel a specific goal: to make her own decisions. Wilks’ Yente comes off as an amusing busybody while Kent gives radical student Perchik layers of emotion to play with. The ensemble also needs to be commended for being believable townsfolk gossiping without being dull caricatures.
However, nothing surpasses the stage presence of David Arisco. His Tevye stands above water, and his take on "If I Were a Rich Man" is powerful. Arisco knows the stage well. He should - having directed over 70 productions during his tenure at the Miracle Theatre, he lets the audience know that it is still his house and he is the captain of this vessel.
The only disappointment in this presentation is the mixture of dialects. Arisco and Flaten could have hired a dialect coach so the audience wouldn't be taken to Anatevka, New York. Other than the mixed accents, the AP design staff is on the right track, from Mary Lynne Izzo’s beautiful garbs and M.P. Amico’s grandiose set to Stuart Reiter’s pinpoint lighting, particularly Tevye’s spotlights.
It is a coup for an Actors’ Playhouse production to coincide with a Broadway revival of the same musical. It is such a coup that South Florida audiences can rest assured they don’t need to go 3,000 miles up north to see a fine production when they can be content with what’s happening in our own backyard.
Fiddler on the Roof is now playing at the Miracle Theatre until April 11th, 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. For reservations, please call (305) 444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org.
Directed by Barbara Flaten & David Arisco
Production Stage Manager: Carl Waisanen
Musical Direction: Eric Alsford
Scenic Design: M. P. Amico
Starring David Arisco*
Featuring Margot Moreland*, Elayne Wilks*, Marty Ross, Trista
Ensemble: Stefany Allongo, Chris Bean, Daniel Bourgoin, Kay Brady*,
Children: Sydney Altfield, Drew Arisco, Tevi Eber, Joseph Peretta,
*-denotes Actors’ Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson