Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Set in the small town (shtetl) of Anatevka on the eve of the 1905 Russian Revolutionary period, Fiddler on the Roof is the story of a milkman named Tevye (Peter Librach) struggling with the day-to-day existence of supporting himself, his wife and his five daughters. Tevye compares his life in Anatevka with being a "Fiddler on the Roof" trying to scratch out a simple tune without breaking his neck. He asks of God "How do we keep our balance?" and answers "That I can tell you in a word - tradition!" As he faces the changes that God has in store for him, it is that very sense of tradition that will be continually challenged. Librach has a solid understanding of the style of the show and what kind of man Tevye isfinding both the comedic and dramatic moments of the role. He has great warmth and good timing, but needs to flesh out larger character choices to approach making "If I Were a Rich Man" the grand and joyful defining moment worthy of stopping a show that it can be.
When Tevye's eldest daughter Tzeitel (Erica Rose Dade) defies tradition by choosing to marry Motel (Andrew Shultz) the tailor, rather than the butcher Lazar Wolf (Murphy Hayes), selected for her by the matchmaker Yente, he ponders the tradition of an arranged marriage rather than a marriage for love. It prompts Tevye to ask his wife Golde (Joanne Shultz) the question, "Do You Love Me?". Dade is engaging as Tzeitel, and as Andrew Shultz seems to specialize in nervous, nerdy characters, this role is "tailor-made" for him (pardon the pun). There is but one brief moment in "Miracle of Miracles" when he seems to forget himself, and sings a contemporary vocal lick at the end of one of the phrases. Murphy Hayes has a surprisingly strong acting presence that makes him very watchable as Lazar Wolf even in ensemble scenes.
A young student from Kiev named Perchik (Nathan Mays) becomes irate when the marriage celebration between Motel and Tzeitel is ransacked by Russian soldiers as part of a demonstration meant to foreshadow the pogrom ahead. He is about to return to Kiev to join the revolution against the Tsar of Russia, and he asks Tevye's daughter Hodel (Caitlin Frost) to marry him. Though Tevye objects at the thought of his daughter moving far away, he is told that he is not being asked for his consent, just his blessing. There is a quiet strength to Mays' portrayal of Perchik that works well for this introspective student. He has a fine sound, though his voice is not quite as full as one would hope. Frost sings a heartbreaking rendition of "Far from the Home I Love" with great tenderness and musicianship, making it the best musical moment in this production.
When Tevye's daughter Chava (Meghan Frost) wishes to marry to a non-Jewish Russian named Fyedka (Sean Davis), Tevye cannot accept her marrying outside the faith. Although it clearly tears him apart, he turns his back on her in the name of "tradition". As Chava, Meghan Frost dances beautifully in the ballet sequence and is well paired with a lanky Sean Davis, who is also a fairly nimble dancer.
As Tevye and his family are forced by Russian soldiers to leave Anatevka, Chava and Fyedka come to him one last time to beg his acceptance. Though he does not speak directly to them, he utters the blessing "God be with you" for them to hear. So, as this part of the story of Tevye and the people of Anatevka ends, there is the hope of healing, and a new tradition of survival.
When viewing older, large cast musicals, it is not uncommon for people to refer to them as "old chestnuts". Accordingly, one can forget how delightful the meat of that chestnut can be. Seeing Fiddler on the Roof after several years away from it was a reminder for me of how well written the book is, and how truly funny some of the lines are in the hands of the right comedic timing. Marquee is lucky to have two actresses in their production who handle the comic timing of their roles like two seasoned vaudeville performers. Joanne Shultz is pure "gold" (another pun?) as Golde. While clearly wearing the pants and running the household, her Golde henpecks Tevye without being a shrew. We see her motivation is protecting her family, not just being in charge. Through it all, we still like her; and we chuckle at her one-liners, shuffling walk, and rumpled face. She is well matched with Vicki Klein as Yente. This role is a perfect fit for Klein whose Yente is bombastic but vulnerable, allowing a glimpse of the well-intentioned misfit that lies underneath. One of my favorite scenes is the brief kitchen scene between the two women which feels funny and honest. They both have great timing for this style of comedy, and get every laugh written.
There are some nicely choreographed and danced moments in the show, though one must overlook that most of the bottle dancers and specialty dancers are actually females dressed as men. While choreographer Ben Solmor has placed himself in dance numbers when possible (and as our charming Fiddler in the opening and closing scenes), there is not enough of him to go around, and only one or two of the other men are up to the task. There are some imperfections in this production, such as random microphone issues on the night attended, scene changes that needed to be sped up, and ensemble members with no discernible characters and/or minimal stage presence. These are all issues that can be worked out over time as Marquee continues to grow. Despite inconsistencies, as a whole, the direction and commitment are clearly there, along with strong performances by some of the leads.
This Marquee Theater production of Fiddler on the Roof will be appearing at the West Boca Performing Arts Center through October 16, 2016. Mainstage productions are housed in the West Boca Performing Arts Theater at 12811 Glades Rd. in Boca Raton FL, and Black-Box productions are housed in the Next Level Performing Arts Black-Box at 7533 N. St. Rd. 7 in Parkland FL. For tickets and information, you may contact them by phone at 954-464-8249 or online at www.marqueetheatercompany.com.