'Fiddler on the Roof' by Amity Creative Theater Program
Nancy Sasso Janis
Conncecticut Critics Circle/Onstage Connecticut Critic
"With all due respect to Lin Manuel Miranda's masterpiece 'Hamilton' (which I adore) I still think 'Fiddler' is the most perfect musical." - Robert Kennedy, Director
Woodbridge, CT - Everything about the Amity Creative Theater Program is big. Students come from the towns of Orange, Bethany and Woodbridge. Online ticket purchases speed up the welcome process and the huge number of parent volunteers are everywhere. The lobby area of the John J. Brady Center for the Performing Arts at this regional high school always features several tables for concessions and the like, as well as a large display of photos of the student actors wearing their costumes, complete with fabric swatches. When patrons are handed the thick 8 ½ by 11 inch program, this year’s the largest ever, they enter the large and comfortable sold out auditorium where the set reaches outside the large stage. This year director Robert Kennedy decided to launch a big production of what he calls “the best musical of all time...as close to a perfect show a director could ask for.”
The director reminds us in this note that ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ examines “all of life, including persecution, poverty, and the struggle to maintain one’s beliefs in the midst of a hostile and chaotic environment.” This classic musical with a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock is at its core about the dissolution of a way of life, and despite the fact that it is set in a fictional village in the Ukraine in 1905, there are certainly contemporary parallels not lost on Mr. Kennedy. For this reason, he chose it to be the tenth musical he has done with the students at Amity High School.
Joyce Lin, a senior, appeared first as the solitary fiddler and when Amity senior Eric Greenbaum entered as the poor Jewish milkman Tevye, he commanded the stage. Senior Yuliya Faryna was a strong actress in the role of his wife of 25 years, Golde. The five lovely daughters that God has blessed him with included Emily Kilian as the eldest Tzeitel, Gabrielle Aversa as Hodel, freshman Talya Braverman as Chava, sophomore (and last year’s Little Red Riding Hood in ‘Into the Woods’) Lilli Querker as Shprintze, and freshman Blythe Reis as Bielke. Ms. Aversa, an Amity senior, was able to shine on her rendition of “Far From the Home I Love.”
Junior Alaina Dwyer (the Witch in ‘Into the Woods’) was perfectly cast as Yente the village Matchmaker and brought a good sense of comic timing to her performance. I loved junior Harrison Pack (a prince last year) in the role of Motel, the timid tailor who falls in love with the eldest daugher. Perchik the radical student was brought to life by senior Ryan Rappaport and Shane Gordon, a senior at Amity, was a tall and handsome Fyedka, a Russian soldier who runs off with the third of Tevye’s daughters.
Junior Maren Westgard was excellent in the role of Golde’s deceased Grandma Tzeitel in one of my favorite scenes when Tevye invents “The Dream.” This was an impressive dream sequence featuring the tallest Fruma-Sarah I have ever seen, played exquisitely by junior Alexandra Ashworth. As good as these ghosts made this number, my favorite one in this production was the beautiful “Sabbath Prayer.” The staging of this piece was the best I have ever seen and got the “WOW” in my program.
Senior Nathan Shilling was the older butcher, Lazar Wolf, sophomore Nico Sagnelli was Mordcha, the innkeeper, and junior Ben Kemp was the revered village rabbi, with freshman Kyle Magri as his son. Dean Pocwierz was the village bookseller and senior Tyler Jennes was Yussel the hatmaker. Other young men in the cast included junior Brian Forbes as the constable, senior Jeff Gallo as Sasha and Josiah Oakley as Nachum the beggar.
Senior Kelsey Paier appeared as Motel’s mother. The excellent villager ensemble that sang together well included mamas, papas, daughters, sons and Russians; some daughters were played by fourth grade students.
Mr. Kennedy shared directing duties with his wife Andrea Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy also did the authentic choreography based on Jerome Robbin’s original Broadway design. She was assisted by student Joyce Lin. The unison of “Tradition” was flawless. Marcia Rizzotti was the musical director and the 30 plus members of the fine student orchestra were conducted by Phil Dolan. Dan Hassenmayer worked his lighting magic and Tom “Ivan” Ivanovich of Horizon Sound was sound designer. The scenic design by Mr. Kennedy featured slatted houses in silhouette that were very effective.
The costumes made especially for this production were designed by Julie Chevan and Brenda Burt. Each one fit perfectly and evoked the era and the location convincingly. Mrs. Kennedy was also in charge of the hair, wig and makeup design and there were lots of full beards required for these young men.
Rabbi Michael Farbman is credited as the production advisor and was undoubtedly consulted for the Yiddish labels on every concession table. Kudos to the directing team on another wonderful sold out Amity production that sets the bar very high.