It was a grand, joyous night of dancing, singing and “tradition” as the Theater League of Clifton staged the renowned Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” An audience of nearly 250 patrons enjoyed the opening-night performance May 9 at the Theresa Aprea Theater.
On many levels, a show like “Fiddler” is an ambitious project, for a community theater or a Broadway troupe, with a challenging musical score, dramatic roles and athletic choreography. There is also an added degree of difficulty in that many of the songs have become Broadway standards — lyrics that are word-for-word familiar and near and dear to hearts of theater-goers — all of which carries an expectation of excellence. It is a daunting task and a difficult target to hit.
Director Kathleen Kellaigh and the Theater League actors must be commended for meeting these challenges head on. No corners were cut; no hurdles were dodged, and no short cuts were taken. The reward for their artistic courage was a most satisfying, successful performance. They hit the target and breathed life into the spirit of a beloved Broadway classic.
One example of this courage came in Act 1 during the wedding of Tzeitel (Rebecca Shuster) and Motel (Craig Ernest Woodward), when the stage cleared and four men of the humble village Anatevka danced with bottles balanced atop their hats. This “bottle dance” was a flawless, well-executed delight.
Another moment, earlier in Act 1, was the Sabbath Prayer scene. The stage lights dimmed as Tevye (Frank Favata), Golde (Alexa Fernandez) and their family gathered around the table to light candles. The scene unfolded as a visual, almost-eerie work of art. Ghost-like actors, perched in a two-tier set construction behind a scrim, illuminated their presence with candles as the family sang in prayer. The final touch to this on-stage composition was the deep, atmospheric, blue background lighting. Set designers and lighting technicians Kurt Irizarry, Ken Kida, Matt Locker and Kyle Parkin deserve a bow for creating this ethereal moment.
Tender emotion was the moment captured in Act 2 as Hodel, played by Sabrina Curry, sang sadly and sweetly, “Far From the Home I Love,” to her father, Tevye, as she waited for a train that would take her on an uncertain journey to Siberia. Curry’s eyes welled and glistened as she delivered the stellar solo of the performance. In addition to Curry, two other noteworthy vocal moments were achieved by Woodward (“Miracles of Miracles” in Act 1) and Perchik (Kenneth Fowler—”Now I Have Everything” in Act 2).
At the other end of the spectrum, the Act 1 scene, “To Life,” was a boisterous moment that kicked the entire production into high gear. Tevye and his pal Lazar Wolf (Dante Liberti) were brimming with rowdy, drunken energy and the two actors looked like they were enjoying every minute of their high-octane exchange. Other cast members joined in as the carousing evolved into a dazzling, intricate dance number with many moving parts.
Taken as a whole, these moments combined to weave a sustained momentum that built throughout the show and was fully realized by the entire cast in the final, mournful farewell to “Anatevka.” At the end of the night, these were authentic characters that connected with the audience. They gave dignified testimony to the simple joys and stark hardships of the resilient, faithful people they portrayed during the eve of the Russian revolution.
The soulful performance of Favata, the hub of the production, kept the show’s momentum on track. He demonstrated the endurance and chops needed for this principal role and was masterful in capturing the existential angst of Tevye — a character burdened by the weight of tradition, bound by his faith, and painfully aware of a rapidly changing world closing in on him. Favata also displayed his dramatic range, generating laughter with wry charm, woebegone facial expressions, well-placed sighs, and subtle comic timing.
Cast members included Steve Adubato as the Rabbi; Melody Atkinson as Shaina; Mia Balsamo as Bielke; Hilda Santiago Berrios as Friedel; Sindy DeLaCruz as Grandma Tzeitel and Basha; Marquis Figeroa as Fyedka; John Fraissinet as Avram; Gregory Gwyn as the Fiddler and Olaf; Jonathan Hernandez as Mendel; Ellie Kallay as Chava; Katie Kallay as Itzik; Lillie Kortrey as Anya; Gary Koesyan as Constable; Milagros Ortiz as Ruchel; Joe Pacella as Ilya; Erin Pach as Rifke; Felipe Rodriguez as Sasha; Ernest Romeo as Mordcha, the Inn Keeper; Marsha Schreier as Yente and Fruma Sarah; Katie Shuster as Mirala; Frank Skokan as Nachum; Maren Sugarman as Shaindel; Andrew Till as Yussel; and Rachel Zegler as Shprintze.
Musical director Jalmari Vanamo led the pit band while Joel Robertson served as the choreographer. The band was composed of Alyssa DiNapoli, Gerry Cappuccio, Robert Slonim, Mary Louise Irvine, Andrea Herr, Victor Keremedjiev, Gary Hollander, Gary Guzio, Joe Yachnik, Anthony Fenicchia, Larry Silverman, James Robbins and Matt McLaughlin. The Theater League made special note of Robertson’s theatrical credentials as he worked directly with legendary Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins in the 1980-82 national revival tour of “Fiddler.” As a performer, he was an original cast member of the shows “Cats,” “Les Miserable,” and “Jekyll and Hyde.”
Stephanie Peterson and Maryann Irizarry are the producers of the show. The diverse costumes by Irizarry were another spot-on artistic element for the production. Tara Freifeld served as stage manager, supported by assistant stage manager Devin Sogluizzo and house manager Katherine Waumans. The stage crew included Shawn Artim, Claudia Jackson, Michael Purdy and Tom Vigilante.
Founded nine years ago, the Theater League of Clifton, a non-profit cultural organization, is now in its third season performing at the Theresa Aprea Theater, located at 199 Scoles Ave. (formerly the YM-YWHA Community Center of Clifton and Passaic). Mark Peterson is the president of the group.
Performances of Fiddler on the Roof continue tonight (May 16), Saturday, May 17 and Sunday, May 18. The May 16 and 17 shows open at 8 p.m., while May 18 is a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. For tickets, call the Theater League at 973-928-7668