Tradition Unshaken with Fiddler
With Fiddler On the Roof
“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as a fiddler on the roof!” so states the dairy farmer Tevye in the opening number of the popular musical.
This year, Sayville High School’s musical production of Fiddler on the Roof suffered more than its share of preproduction challenges that paralleled the precarious lives of the Jewish villagers in Anatevka, Russia.
With school schedules still recovering from setbacks by Sandy, Nemo swept in with record-setting snowfalls, and general bad weather cancelled afterschool activities. “We lost two full rehearsals,” Director/Producer Steven Hailey wrote in the program, “add to that a rather virulent flu season….” With only a six week-production schedule (interrupted by February break) that required coordinating over 100 students’ schedules among the performers, musicians, and crew members with their sports, dance, and music competitions, college interviews or auditions, it was a wonder there was any performance of the double-casted production ready for an audience.
Despite shaky rehearsals, the curtains opened for the first show on Wednesday, and wonders of wonders, the efforts of the entire company pulled together, eclipsing minor glitches.
Delivering entertaining performances for the Wednesday/Friday productions were the following main cast members:
- An impressive baritone, sophomore Timothy Costorf played the pivotal character of Tevye splendidly and with genuine compassion;
- Katya Sparwasser (fending off a throat ailment) remained skillful and sharp as the nagging Golde;
- Alexandra LoGrippo was every bit the comic matchmaker Yente;
- Christian Savini crafted a lively Lazar Wolf who was both a big and memorable presence on the stage (for all performances);
- Matthew Spina engaged the role of the critical Rabbi’s son Mendel with quick wit and comic timing;
- Marissa Casazza (Tzeitel), Danielle Post (Hodel), and Gabrielle Kalomiris (Chava), convincingly mixed sisterly rivalry with affection especially in their delightful performance of Matchmaker. Throughout the musical, their moving characterizations built poignant contrasts between tradition and change, signified by the beautiful solo (performed by Danielle Post) Far From the Home I Love and the tender ballet scene with Golde and the three sisters as they accept their futures apart;
- Sean McNally was a great Motel who gave a lively performance of Miracle of Miracles;
- In all four performances, Alex Sneddon played a believable Perchik and sang a touching rendition of Now I have Everything, while Benjamin Diehl turned on his charm as Fyedka, the Russian suitor.
Building up momentum, the Thursday-Saturday cast swapped actors for central characters:
- Portraying Tevye with quiet strength—except when yelling at his daughters’ suitors or Lazar Wolfe with overpowering volume—senior Matthew Iovino brought his rich baritone and lighthearted humor to the role;
- Elizabeth (Libby) Larkin’s singing had a matchless quality, but as Golde she matched Tevye’s force with her shrewish power;
- Kimberly Miller played a bubbly Yente on a relentless mission;
- Matthew Spina was seamless as Motel the Tailor and exhilarating in his excellent performance of Miracle of Miracles;
- United in their performance of Matchmaker, the three “sisters” carried their characters with confidence: lively Samantha Shenkel was lovely as Tzeitel, Denise Natoli as Hodel used her exquisite voice to its fullest potential especially in the solo Far From the Home I Love, and the sweet-voiced Shannon Lynch was the spirited and endearing Chava, lost to her family for marrying outside their religion;
- Sean McNally, as the Rabbi’s son, was swift in criticism and an amusing foil to any form of change.
For all four productions, there were many notable standouts in ancillary parts:
- Brian Walsh comically embodied the simplistic Rabbi;
- Daniel Lumley was a respectable Avram the Hat Maker;
- Sean Velazquez gave menace to his role as Constable;
- Dillon Finder made Mordcha speak his mind as the parsimonious innkeeper;
- and Liam Haber depicted Russian prejudice in his portrayal of Sasha.
- During the song To Life, Russian Soloist (WF) Jake Vail interrupted the revelers celebrating the upcoming nuptials with his stirring vocal challenge, while phenomenal Megan Gunther (ThuS) awed everyone with how long she sustained that same unaccompanied solo note before the Russian Youths (the company dancers) jumped into the celebration to dance.
- In the hilarious Tevye’s dream sequence, the Ghost of Grandma Tzeitel, well played by Meghan Marshal, offered contradictory marriage advice that was quickly accepted when the terrifying Ghost of Fruma Sarah (portrayed with wild intensity by Mary Nichols) threatened revenge.
- The villagers and children who populated Anatevka added to the company, while the hardworking dancers buoyed the overall spirit with their grace and energy, giving animation to the tavern scenes and extravaganza to the bottle dance.
- The metaphorical fiddler came to musical life with Susan Mangaluz, who actually played the melody on her violin. As the forecaster of imminent change, she reversed the somber ending with a final hopeful smile.
By Saturday’s performance, miracles of miracles, the company of actors had energized. The actors showed more confidence about their characters and adapted believably with improvisations when a rehearsed scene or two took unexpected turns.
- Little sisters (played by Kyla Carter and Breanna Scheck-Gomez, who both adorably acted and sang every night) were missing from one scene, logically prompting Perchik (Alex Sniddon remained in character) to look for them (off stage), while Chava (Shannon Lynch) and Hodel (Denise Natoli) ad libbed some sisterly teasing until he retrieved at least one student for his onstage lesson.
- Packing up for their exodus from Anatevka, Motel proved a good father when he brought out the baby who was almost “forgotten” in the house. (Even when taking final bows, Matt Spina stayed in character as he held the baby and shushed the audience for their noisy applause.)
- Insinuating “bananas” as props into the unlikely scene—a quasi tradition begun back in 2008 with Guys and Dolls–occurred in Fiddler when the drunken Lazar Wolfe and Tevye exited the tavern (and later when the stage crew came out for bows). Although not every musical since that time has utilized the sight gag, this year’s company has remained silent about who may have reintroduced the joke.
With production now over and a bit of perspective on the moments that make or break live theatre, the cast and crew of Fiddler remained bonded—much like the villagers—in their sense of satisfaction. Director Steve Hailey acknowledged with pride that as the actors matured in their roles, they imbued scenes with more genuine drama. “We climbed a step each night.” And each night, thanks to everyone who contributed “A little bit of this, A little bit of that,” the show became a “dear little village.”
“Where else could Sabbath be so sweet?”
In addition to Director/Producer Hailey, credit also goes to the production staff: musical Director/Accompanist Frederic Diekmann; Orchestra Conductor/Musical Arranger Ari Kramer and members of the orchestra pit; Choreographer Penny Hough and dancers; Technical Supervisor Ken Van Essendelft; Sound Supervisor Andy Giammalvo; Lighting Supervisor Steve Hailey; Stage Mangers Michael LoPreto, Angela Vetere; Scenic Design/paint Manger Lorelei Olk; Construction Manager Michael Forsberg; Lighting Manager Chuck Verbeck; Costume Janie Loesch; and costume assistant Autumn Bradley; Properties Master Julia Cameron; Choreography of Chavaleh by Irene Kent, and Choreography assistants, Christian Savini, Meghan Gunther, Shannon Lynch; with special thanks to make-up, properties, costumes assistant Donna Hailey; Joe Cook for his assistance with scenery and stage crew; Joseph Hailey for assistance with lighting crew; Van Kamenade Paint store for their generous donation towards the set and scenery and the SHS administrators, faculty, and staff, and middle school apprentices… Most of all, for the support of the families and friends of the company.