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Wednesday, 04 April 2012 22:07

'Fiddler on the Roof' at the Peabody is a mixed bag

Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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'Fiddler on the Roof' at the Peabody is a mixed bag
fiddlerontour.com / Carol Rosegg

The necessary ingredients for a successful production of “Fiddler on the Roof” aren’t that much different from those for a successful production of any musical.

You need solid leads, a good chorus, and dancers that can make the choreography work. For “Fiddler”, in particular, you also need brisk pacing and a Tevye that can wear the masks of both Comedy and Tragedy believably.

The tour playing the Peabody this week may not have all of those elements, but it has enough of them to be enjoyable most of the time. It’s not the best “Fiddler” I’ve ever seen but it’s far from the worst and that, combined with the Peabody’s many virtues as a musical theatre venue, makes it worth seeing for anyone who enjoys this show.

It’s important for Tevye’s wife Golde and her daughters to make a strong impression since the story essentially revolves around the daughters' refusal to make traditional matches. Gerri Weagraff is a fine Golde, nicely matched by Brooke Hills, Sarah Sesler, and Chelsey Lebel as Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava. The three actresses quickly create distinct characters for the daughters in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and sustain them throughout the evening.

The same must be said of the actors playing the increasingly unsuitable matches. Andrew Boza’s Motel, Joshua Phan-Gruber’s Perchik, and Michael Schultz’s Fyedka all have their moments to shine (and do), although Mr. Schultz’s tenor is not, perhaps, quite powerful enough to make the necessary strong impression in “To Life”. David B. Springstead, Sr. is just right as the butcher Lazar Wolf.

John Preece’s bio says that he has played the role of Tevye over 1,780 times, so it’s no surprise that he seems so completely relaxed and at home in the part. He’s especially effective in capturing Tevye's world-weary humor; his “oy” speaks volumes. He seems less effective in bringing out the character’s despair. At least on opening night, there are depths of pathos in Tevye that were, I think, not plumbed.

The production is uneven in other areas as well. Some voices are stronger than others, and not all of the actors are well cast. The role of the Rabbi, in particular, is assigned to an actor far too young and equipped with a patently false beard that only calls attention to the fact. Pacing is sometime sluggish, most notably in the first act, which, when we saw it, ran a good five to ten minutes longer than it should. This is a “Fiddler” that clocks in at over three hours.

Still, the sets and costumes look great, the scene changes are quick and fluid, and the “Bottle Dance” is properly impressive. Besides, Bock and Harnick’s music is as engaging today as it was nearly fifty years ago. Joseph Stein’s book, adapted from Sholem Aleichem, remains powerful, even if its tragic edge is somewhat blunted here. The pit orchestra under David Andrews Rogers sounded great. The production hits more than it misses, in short, so lovers of “Fiddler” probably will find a lot to like.

This was my first opportunity to see a show at the Peabody, by the way, and I have to say I was impressed with the space. Acoustics and sight lines are good, and the smaller seating capacity means that crowd control is less of an issue than at the Fox. I was reminded why I used to enjoy seeing shows here back when it was the Kiel Opera House. The Peabody’s Broadway Series is still fairly small—only four shows in the current season, and none playing for more than a week—but I can only hope it will grow. It’s a great theatrical space, and there always seems to be a shortage of those locally.

“Fiddler on the Roof” continues at the Peabody Opera House through Easter Sunday. For more information, you may visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-499-7600.

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