Naples Players hit some sweet notes, some sour in ‘Fiddler’
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” lead character Tevye is known for his little conversations with God, and with himself. “On one hand,” he’ll say, and state one side of the problem, only in the next breath to say, “On the other hand,” and debate the other side.
Of course, as he ponders the pros and cons of a situation, Tevye has more than two hands.
I feel somewhat similarly about The Naples Players’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which runs at The Sugden Community Theatre in Naples through April 3.
On one hand, it’s a classic play, and you can’t lose with the many well-loved and popular songs. On the other hand, it’s a challenging musical filled with comedy and pathos.
On one hand, The Naples Players generally put out a knock-out musical every season. But on the other hand, although I found much to like about their current production, it failed to knock me out.
Not the set designer’s tradition
Set designer Matt Flynn usually creates wonderful sets for The Naples Players, sets that sometimes garner gasps of appreciation and even applause from the audience. But the set for “Fiddler” looks as if someone wanted to use every plank and stick of wood available in the back shop and beyond. And did.
Though it sounds strange, my immediate impression upon seeing the set was: “That’s an awful lot of wood.” It almost looks like an Army barracks, with wooden walls, wooden doors, wooden roofs and even a wooden fence running along the back.
I do realize that “Fiddler” is set in Anatevka, a rundown Russian village where a community scratches out a living, but this set is simply unappealing.
The director’s notes in the program state that the musical was initially rejected for being “too ethnic.” But this production suffers from the opposite problem: It’s not ethnic enough. I rarely believed that these characters were Jewish.
It’s not in the look. The rented costumes are great, and most of the adult men grew their own beards to look the part. But something vital is missing. It’s missing in the voice inflections and in accents, and in the way the actors hold their arms up in the air while dancing.
Highs and lows
Bob Staeheli plays a curiously mildmannered Tevye. Even when he stomps his booted foot on the ground or pounds a table, it’s not done in a forceful way. His Tevye lacks passion and dimension. When he sings “If I Were a Rich Man,” you doubt he’s ever heard a cantor in his entire life.
On the other hand, his scenes with his wife, Golde (Mai Puccio), are full of tenderness and humor. Ms. Puccio is a force to reckon with as Golde, with her strong will and her Suzanne Pleshette voice. As they sing “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Do You Love Me?” you truly believe they’re a long-married couple.
“The Dream,” in which the cast reenacts a nightmare Tevye allegedly has, steals the show. With Carol Fox as Grandma Tzeitel and Laura Needle as Fruma Sarah coming back from their graves, this scene has an energy and vitality sadly missing from other numbers.
The production has highlights, mainly when the characters are singing and dancing. But the moments of acting in between just aren’t as good.
And with 38 performers, the stage can get pretty crowded at times. The cast includes a number of actors from The Naples Players’ KidzAct program, performing now with the adults. But it also includes a child so young and tiny that he seems out of place. I often felt frightened that he was about to be stampeded by all the adult dancers.
Other distractions included the horrible fake moustaches on some of the Russian characters. They looked like the poster children on the signs at your local 7-Eleven explaining why clerks require proof of age from shoppers purchasing alcohol or cigarettes.
The actors in “Fiddler,” for the most part, have sweet voices. A the eldest of Tevye’s five daughters, Joanna Mandel, Bianca Prioletti and Tori Hendry do well in “Matchmaker.” And Evan Alexander is endearing as Motel, the bumbling tailor. Tyler Bishop was a bit boisterous as Perchik, the teacher who questions tradition.
The 10-piece orchestra, led by musical conductor Charles Fornara, is superb. Unfortunately, sometimes it drowns out the singers, something that’s likely the fault of the people working the soundboard. Some soloists could be heard very clearly, while others couldn’t. Good sound people should compensate for that; everyone should be heard. And it seemed as if the mikes weren’t always turned on — or turned off — in time. The night I saw the show, backstage chatter on left-on mikes ruined a sweet moment between Tevye and Golde on-stage, and there was a problem with constant static.
This is Dawn Lebrecht Fornara’s directorial debut with the adults at The Sugden. (Her production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” with KidzAct last season was exceptional.) In “Fiddler,” her staging of “Sabbath Prayer” is creative and moving.
Lacking as a whole
“Fiddler on the Roof” has many moments where it pleases, but for some reason it doesn’t hold together well as a whole. It doesn’t gel. The parts — and many of them are quite wonderful — don’t come together to make something bigger.
It’s good to hear the familiar, classic songs performed so well.
But this production of “Fiddler” seems more white bread than rye. ¦
.. in the know
>> What: “Fiddler on the Roof”
>> When: through April 3
>> Where: Sugden Community Theatre,
701 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
>> Tickets: $30 ($10 for students 18 and
under); some shows are sold >> Information: (239) 263-7990 or