BWW Review: A New Spin on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Cultural Arts Playhouse
Theatre is about pushing the boundaries of what's expected. In the Cultural Arts Playhouse's latest production of "Fiddler on the Roof," director Eliana Kayelle has taken many risks in her telling of the Broadway classic. While some choices work better than others, her willingness to deviate from the norm, especially as a young director, is an effort to be commended.
Most theatre-goers are familiar with the tale of Tevye, a poor milkman, and his family - made up of his wife, the strongwilled Golde, and his four daughters - who inhabit the quaint village of Anatevka. Ms. Kayelle highlights the overlying theme of tradition with a modern twist. Tevye, his daughters, their love interests and the titular fiddler all begin the production in modern costume. Huddled around a photo album, they are seemingly looking back on the story of the musical. By the time the first musical number, "Tradition," begins, they transform into the world and characters of Anatevka. However, the way it is staged makes it unclear who is part of the story and who is recollecting it. While I understood that Tevye and his family were meant to be representative of a modern family looking back on days gone by, I was confused by Golde's, a key figure in the family, absence in the opening and her sudden arrival in "Tradition." Why are some characters part of the story while others inhabit it?
The show continues with this theme throughout. As one couple departs Anatevka, they return to their modern day clothes and stand beside the Fiddlers - played by a little girl, Elena Surber, who not only possesses the fiddle, but also the photo album. In addition, the set features a modern touch of abstract images melded with traditional imagery of the time period.
This production is also a color-blind one. In her note to the audience Ms. Kayelle explains, "I learned in acting classes and from doing research for the show that Fiddler isn't just a Jewish story, but a worldly story many people have experienced [...] Every culture has traditions and believes in family. Many of those customs have been broken or changed over the last century, but it is because of the stories of our grandparents that some live on."
And in this unique production, there are many notable performances. Ariana Morales practically glows on stage with youthful energy as the spritely daughter Chava. Her vocals are fantastic and I only wished her character was utilized more in the way the book is written. Tim Smith also held his own as Tevye. It is no easy feat to perform such a beloved role - especially in a number like "If I Were a Rich Man" - but his passion was clearly exhibited in his classic fourth-wall breaking monologues.
The ensemble was also strong and entertained with the distinct personalities of the villagers that shined through in large scale scenes.
It takes real courage to take a musical so beloved as Fiddler and give it a new spin. While I maintain that some of the direction choices needed to be refined for sake of comprehension, I will also maintain that Ms. Kayelle has proved herself to be a new, promising voice in Long Island community and regional theatre. She has accomplished her vision of relating what could be viewed as a dated piece to our modern world and I look forward to her future productions.
"Fiddler on the Roof" is presented by the Cultural Arts Playhouse through December 3. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (516) 694-3330 or visit cap.booktix.com
Music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. Directed/Choreographed by Eliana Kayelle, Assistant Directed/Stage Managed by James Walsh, Set Design by Thomas McKenna, Lighting Design by Jaxon Hickey, Musical Direction by Joe Anthony, Costume Design by Chery Manniello, Junior Staged Managed by Amanda Schmidt, Sign Language by Templar Wright
Starring: Tim Smith as Tevye, Taneisha Corbin as Golde, Samantha Eagle (u/s Jenn Lancaster) as Tzeitel, Abigail Hirshbein (u/s Gabrielle Martin) as Hodel, Ariana Morales (u/s Steffy Jolin) as Chava, Leilani Blakeman (u/s Sarah Fitzgerald) as Shprintze, Destinee Williamson (u/s Sarah Fitzgerald) as Bielke, Elena Surber as The Fiddler, Jojo Minasi as Motel, Jared Grossman (u/s Rob Neil) as Perchik, Ryan Daniels as Fyedka, Jenn Demopoulos as Yente, Paul Lichtman as Lazar Wolf, Bob Hertz as The Constable, Anna Delgado/Kathleen Eberhardt as Grandma Tzeitel, Chrissy Ganci as Fruma Sarah, Ensemble: Frank Ambrosini, Erin Biener, Anna Delgado, Kathleen Eberhardt, Rob Farley, Rob Gallo, Chrissy Ganci, Terry Ginzburg, Jared Glazer, Matthew Herman, Holly Koenig, Gabrielle Martin, Rob Neil, Janet Sarmas, David Surber, Warren Tierney, James Walsh