The Naples Players current production of Fiddler on the Roof offers much to admire and appreciate. The direction and choreography by Dawn Labrecht Fornaro are well conceived and well executed. The casting is all appropriate. The set is not only attractive and practical, it is evocative and it somehow, within a seemingly simple overall concept, conveys the changing moods of the action. While the vocals are inconsistent, there are some lovely voices. Particularly appealing is the beautiful young woman who plays and sings the part of Hodel, Bianca Prioletti. The first act, mostly comic, is consistently entertaining.
However, in the second act, where the story takes on a more serious tone, the wind comes out of the sails of this production. The dramatic tension dissipates, and the wrapping up of the various plot elements is more mechanical than moving.
Some of this may be due to the portrayal of Tevye. Players who perform for love should not be taken too much to task. Bob Staeheli looks, sings and speaks like Tevye. Missing, though, is the outsized humanity and heart of the character, and some of the humor. A Tevye who is merely life sized is not big enough. Performances at the Sugden would often benefit from restraint. This performance seems overly restrained. But it is early days. The run is just beginning, and Mr. Staehili has all the pieces there. There is time to grow.
Another outsized character is taking the stage at TheatreZone, as that company presents a premiere of a new one-man play about infamous Broadway producer David Merrick. It is called The Beast of Broadway and it should be seen.
The action occurs on the day of the opening of Merrick’s production of 42nd Street in 1980. Gower Champion, the director, had died that day and Merrick insisted on keeping a lid on the news until after the opening. Many in the theater world never forgave him for what they saw as an act of exploitation.
The script is full of funny, nasty remarks about Merrick’s theatrical contemporaries and reminiscences about his career. It is not just a stand-up act. There is a natural flow to the work and a dramatic arc. The portrait that emerges of Merrick is, oddly, given his reputation, that of a man of a certain integrity, who never claimed to care about anything but the show, and whose success benefitted many an actor, playwright and director. David Garrison is a wonderful surprise, a very good actor, effective and at home in the role. It is difficult in a one-person show to know how much is contributed by the actor and how much by the director, but the collaboration works here.
Given Merrick’s views about reviewers as reported in this play, one is wary of making any criticism, not matter how insightful and constructive. One teeny comment, however, is that the production would benefit if the playwright or the actor let out the beast from time to time, so that we could see more clearly what Merrick’s many enemies saw. Merrick seems to have been supremely disciplined in his own way, but not what anyone would call restrained.