Monthly Archive for: ‘September, 2014’

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Fiddler on the Roof (Petaluma)

As the saying goes, big things sometimes come in small packages. Accordingly, big shows sometimes come to small theatres. Such is the case with “Fiddler on the Roof”, a big musical now occupying the small space that is the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma.  While you might shudder at the thought of yet another local theatre company contributing to the seemingly endless supply of audience-pleasing Broadway musicals in Sonoma County, you might find yourself not minding when the production is as well done as this one.

Originally produced in 1964 and the winner of nine Tony Awards, “Fiddler…” is  the tale of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman in pre-revolutionary Russia and his struggles with the responsibilities that come with living in a house with a wife and five daughters.  Adding to these struggles are the challenges to tradition that his daughters bring to him in their resistance to the “old ways”, particularly when it comes to marriage.  One by one, the daughters go their own way, and as Tevye’s familial traditions crumble, so does the precariously balanced community of Jews and Orthodox Christians.

With music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, “Fiddler on the Roof” has long been one of my favorite musicals. A production at Sonoma State University earlier this year was a tremendous disappointment, so I found it very interesting that the lead actor from that production had taken on the direction of this production.  John Shillington, who I thought was miscast as Tevye in the SSU show, occupies the right role (as director) for this show.  Shillington has managed to take a very small space and fill it with almost 40 performers, six musicians, and a set by Joe Elwick to produce a marvelous evening of musical theatre.

Elly Lichenstein, Stephen Walsh

Steven Walsh, as Tevye, and Elly Lichenstein, as his wife Golda, hit all the right notes (literally) as the long-married, long-suffering parents. Tevye is often played as quite bombastic but, when performing in a small house, a thunderous personality can quickly become overbearing. Walsh’s tempered performance allowed him to have his moments of bluster and bravado while not losing the character’s heart and humanity. Lichenstein is in her element as the no-nonsense, just-as-strong-willed counterpoint to Walsh’s head of the household.

Michael Desnoyers, Jennifer Mitchell

Erin Ashe (Chava), Molly Mahoney (Hodel), and Jennifer Mitchell (Tzeitel) all deliver fine performances as the daughters.  Matching them are Michael Desnoyers (Motel), Anthony Guzman (Perchik), and Samuel Rabinowitz (Fyedka) as the suitors.  Many of these performers have extensive vocal training and you can certainly hear that in their singing.  What was missing from some vocals, however, was character.  As beautiful as the voices were, it was sometimes jarring to the ear to hear a character voice switch to an operatic voice.  For those who remember the old television series “Gomer Pyle: USMC”, it was like those moments when Jim Nabors’ Gomer (Golly! Shazam!) would stop talking in his exaggerated Southern drawl and start singing in a rich baritone voice.  Not that either were bad, it was just an unexpected mixture to which the ear needed to adjust.

Good supporting work was also done by Madeleine Ashe as Yente, the matchmaker, James Pfeiffer as the local constable, and Dwayne Stincelli as Lazar Wolf, the oddly-accented butcher.  Speaking of accents, when you do a show set in a Jewish community in the middle of Russia, you have to make an attempt to SOUND like a Jewish community in the middle of Russia.  Kudos to this production for utilizing a dialect coach.

Coordinating the movement of such a large cast must have been challenging for choreographer Joseph Favalora. It was a challenge well met. The large scale numbers had a flow and sense of unanimity to them that made them visually entrancing.  Unfortunately, Sonoma County’s dearth of experienced male dancers reared its ugly head in the bottle dance sequence of “The Wedding Dance”.  Saddled behind fake beards that even a bad Fidel Castro impersonator would avoid, Jorge Covarrubias and Nate Mercier joined Mr. Favalora for this bit.  I give Messrs. Mercier and Covarrubias all the credit in the world for accepting the assignment, but these roles really require experienced dancers. I almost wished the acrobatic Mr. Favalora had simply taken on the responsibility himself.

Nate Mercier, Joseph Favalora, Jorge Covarrubias

My favorite scene from this show has always been “Tevye’s Dream”. Tevye tries to trick his wife into accepting an unarranged marriage for his daughter by relating a horrible nightmare involving Lazar Wolf’s late wife. The dream comes alive on-stage, and usually it is the most technically-challenging scene in the show. Shillington’s staging of this scene is quite creative and would have been a complete success had there not been problems with the vocal component. The ghost of Frumah-Sarah was portrayed by a two-person puppet, and the vocals were provided by a costumed Cheryl Moore, who was placed on stage to the rear of the scene. The puppet effect was mesmerizing, but I found my attention split between the puppet and Ms. Moore, to the detriment of both.  More detrimental was the fact that most of Ms. Moore’s singing was inaudible or unintelligible.  Whether it was her placement on-stage and behind the band or Ms. Moore’s vocal choices, the end result was that this wonderful sequence was not all that it could have been.

The aforementioned band, led by Mary Chun and featuring Tyler Lewis as the Fiddler (Claire-Jeanne Martin during some performances) did an excellent job of musically filling the Cinnabar space. They enveloped the audience with their interpretation of such familiar songs as “Tradition”, “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Sunrise, Sunset”, and the unfamiliar but haunting “Anatevka” – a beautiful scored played beautifully.

Cinnabar Theater’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” rekindled the fond memories I have for this show, introduced me to some outstanding new local talent, confirmed my appreciation for the work of veteran performers, and reaffirmed my belief that a great show demands a strong director and creative team to do it justice.  Justice has been done here.

Something old and familiar has been turned into something fresh and invigorating courtesy the talents of all involved.  Big things do indeed come in small packages and big theatre can be done in small spaces.  Cinnabar Theater’s “Fiddler on the Roof” sets the musical standard by which any other theatre company of similar size should be measured.

Fiddler on the Roof

Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 2pm through September 28

* Check website as additional performances have been added on some Thursdays and Saturdays *

Cinnabar Theater
3333 Petaluma Blvd N
Petaluma, CA 94952

(707) 763-8920

www.cinnabartheater.org

Photos by Eric Chazankin

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