OTHER REVIEWS OF THIS PRODUCTION
Naples Players hit some sweet notes, some sour in ‘Fiddler’ Nancy Stetson for Florida Weekly
"Fiddler on the Roof" offers much to admire and appreciate Bill O'Neill for the Collier Citizen
BLOGS AND EXTRAS
Hundreds of official "Fiddler on the Roof" press photos The Naples Players
"Fiddler on the Roof" photo album Naples Players Facebook
IF YOU GO
What: Musical about a Jewish father with five daughters and a love of tradition
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 3
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.com
Something else: The show is sold out every night through its entire run; see the box office to inquire about the waiting list
On the Web: Get theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
NAPLES — A lot of people put in an amazing amount of hard work to bring "Fiddler to the Roof" to the stage of Sugden Community Theatre. Every bit of that work - and excitement from the cast, crew and audience showed on opening night. Despite the well-deserved standing ovation, I wish the Naples Players had a few extra weeks to work on the production.
This is my second "Fiddler" inside a year; I reviewed Chaim Topol as Tevye in the national tour at Barbara B. Mann in April 2009. The show - one of theater's most beloved and enduring tales - premiered in 1964; it was Broadway's first musical to pass 3,000 performances. We all know the story: Tevye, he's Jewish, the village of Anatevka, five daughters, Tsarist Russia; Tevye has the patience of a saint and the trials of Job. "Fiddler" reaches for lessons on how ordinary people survive the grinding tide of history as their attitudes and traditions change.
A theme of untapped potential runs through the night. "Tradition," the iconic rousing opener, trots dozens of cast members on stage for a bustling number staged with galloping glee only to see visual chaos overwhelm the song's staccato power. It is also the first time I've ever seen the main stage at Sugden look cramped as joyous Jews bump shoulders during a ragged circle dance.
Enthusiasm (for "Tradition" and every other scene) is palpable and undeniable - and the audience responds in turn - but all the choreography has a similar unpolished look. Only the lively "Matchmaker" (with the listen-to-those-girls-sing vocal talents of Bianca Prioletti, Tori Hendry and Joanna Mandel) and "The Dream" numbers leap off the stage.
Bob Staeheli shoulders the literal and metaphorical burdens of Tevye. The role serves as the linchpin of the show and Staeheli bends - but doesn't break - under the weight. He has the gravitas, but director and choreographer Dawn Lebrecht Fornara tends to aim with a shotgun instead of a laser. Powerful scenes with an electric Hendry (Chava, the middle daughter) and tender moments with Mai Puccio (Golde) show Staeheli's range; others, less so.
It is when he's alone on stage that Staeheli seems a bit like his Tevye - lost and a bit overwhelmed. The "If I Were a Rich Man" number feels muddled and fails to connect with the audience, as do Tevye's internal monologues and "conversations" with God. These interludes are meant as windows to Tevye's innermost thoughts - his path from "tradition" to the new world. I wish Lebrecht Fornara had pushed Staeheli further here, to leaven some of "Fiddler's" grim moments with humor and lightness.
There are great performances: Evan Alexander shines as nebbish tailor Motel; his chemistry with Mandel's effervescent Tzeitel makes their on-stage romance sparkle. Puccio's stentorian Golde rattles the walls of the theater with her bellowing shouts, such was her commanding presence.
The music of "Fiddler" relies on harmonies and big, all-hands-on-stage sing-alongs. Staging - more than individual vocal talent - often means the key to success in these scenes - if they're not being overpowered by percussion from the orchestra. "Sabbath Prayer" pulls villagers out into the almost-black theater, while the phantasmal "The Dream" (by far the best number of the night, led by the brilliant Laura Needle as Fruma Sarah) re-imagines the Anatevka crew as a synchronized chanting ghost chorus. Percussion issues aside, Charles Fornara's orchestration gives life to the glorious music throughout the evening.
Matt Flynn's set - while perhaps authentic for early 1900’s Russia - looks like a muddy smear from the audience. Thatched roofs, fake trees - anything would have broken that endless dour expanse of brown. The cutout skyline suggests a hopeful horizon, while Jeff Weiss's rippling lighting effects lend an air of melancholy glamour. Spotlight work seemed inconsistent on opening night, with a missed cue and visible adjustments while the actors were speaking.
Lebrecht Fornara visualizes a reflective and contemplative evening - but her "Fiddler" winds up almost relentlessly grim. Style choices and deliberate, thoughtful pacing cause the show to be pensive instead of hopeful. The show resembles a diamond in the rough; all the work so far has been in prying the stone from the earth. It needs cutting, polishing, setting and purchasing before being slipped into the hands of a deserving audience. Look for the "Matchmaker" number, the "Sabbath Prayer" sequence and the outrageous, inventive "The Dream."
"Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match." E-mail me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.