John Preece and the cast of Fiddler on the Roof
on the Roof
by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Joseph Stein,
directed by Sammy Dallas Bayes
Proctors, through Jan. 9
Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964, musical
theater was still supplying songs to the pop-music market.
You couldn’t pass a radio without hearing it erupt into one
of the show’s hit numbers. One of the last of the glory-days-of-Broadway
musicals, it also featured choreography by Jerome Robbins
that was a unique kinetic complement to the show’s Chagall-inspired
look. All of this, plus Zero Mostel, gave Fiddler a
then-unprecedented years-long run and four Broadway revivals.
In the original production, the role of Yitzuk was played
by Sammy Dallas Bayes, who was tapped by Robbins to preserve
the choreography of the show. He did so for the 1990 revival,
as well as productions around the world. He’s even in the
film version, as one of the Russian dancers. (More locally,
he has directed many shows at Oneonta’s Orpheus Theatre.)
The current tour, playing through Sunday on the mainstage
at Proctors Theatre, reminds us of the power of Robbins’ work
in the bottle dance that climaxes the wedding scene. It’s
a mixture of skilled movement, a beautiful stage picture and
a good measure of surprise.
The young dancers put joy and precision into their work, characteristics
that weren’t as focused in many other numbers. It’s one of
the problems of challenging a non-Equity cast with work that
requires considerable experience and enough individual talent
to buoy the ensemble to the most extreme exuberance they can
Which is why, I’m guessing, that John Preece’s characterization
of Tevye seemed unusually muted. You can only go as far as
the ensemble’s strengths allow. Preece has a considerable
pedigree, with more than 3,000 performances of the show under
his belt, half of them in the leading role, and he played
it with a fine regard for the material, skillfully earning
his laughs without overplaying, yet somewhat subdued at moments
when he should roar.
Among other individual performers, Laren Nedelman and Andrew
Boza, as Tzeitel and Motel respectively, gave a powerfully
energetic performance of “Miracle of Miracles,” with the no-holds-barred
energy lacking in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”
When the cast assembled to sing the anthemic “Sunrise, Sunset,”
however, the voices blended so beautifully that the power
of the number came through, effectively sentimental without
It’s the start of a sequence that culminates in a pogrom—this
is czarist Russia, 1905, after all—performed under the authority
of a constable (Bob Pritchard) who wrestles with his longtime
friendship with Tevye. But Pritchard lacked the gravitas to
inspire the expected fear, and the cursory upsetting of a
few tables and chairs threatened to seem comical, which doesn’t
make for much of a first-act curtain.
With the strong actor Frank Calamaro as butcher Lazar Wolf,
the scene with Tevye that culminates in the song “To Life”
played delightfully. Tevye’s wife, Golde, has to work against
a larger-than-life character, and Nancy Evans played the role
with a convincing sense of calm, never succumbing to the shrillness
that’s a too-often- realized temptation.
Less convincing was Birdie Newman Katz as Yente, who squandered
an end-of-show monologue with a cursory delivery. This is
a show so burnished by the craftsmanship of its writing that
every line counts, and needs to be honored as such.
David Andrews Rogers led the tiny instrumental ensemble, who
did well. But don’t you miss the glorious sound of even a
few strings and brass?
The above caviling notwithstanding, this was an enjoyable
three hours—but what would be an outstanding example of community
theater wasn’t the Broadway-quality experience Proctors promises.
You take potluck even on Broadway, of course, but the bar
has long been raised to a significant height.