'Fiddler on the Roof' at Immaculate High School

'Fiddler on the Roof' at Immaculate High School

Nancy Sasso Janis

“I hope that our production will resonate so our audiences understand that the Jewish community of Anatevka in 1905 shares a lot in common with any community in 2017 that struggles with looking after one’s family or that is oppressed. The spirit of ‘Fiddler’ is the spirit of enduring, living by one’s faith, and of family.” - director Matthew Farina 

Danbury, CT - Immaculate High School’s Fine Arts Department transitioned last year to a new production team that set out to uphold the program’s reputation of excellence with a well-received production of ‘Oklahoma.’ This year director Matthew Farina chose to take on the timeless and universal themes in the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ In his detailed director’s note, he enumerates the benefits of doing theatre with high school students: commitment, discipline, respect, community, passion and work ethic. The choice of the beloved ‘Fiddler’ allowed him to expose the students at this private, Catholic school to the timeless “Tradition” that defines the core values of faith, family and community. “It is my vision that our production will add new life to this classic musical by examining it from its historical context and connect it with the culture of our world in 2016-2017.”

‘Fiddler’ is a big musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and a book by Joseph Stein. It is set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in the year 1905 and the story centers on Tevye, a father blessed with five daughters in an era when the matchmaker arranges marriages. Tevye attempts to maintain his Jewish religion and cultural traditions as outside influences increasingly encroach upon the family’s lives. 

Because the cast included over 50 Immaculate students, the family member groups were large in the opening number “Tradition” and the dancing with stamping was strong. There were two small tables in every aisle for the beautiful “Sabbath Prayer,” allowing all audience members to have a close up view of a family gathered around candles for prayer. A decent-sized platform was erected in the middle of the main aisle and was used for several key outdoor scenes. While this forced the audience members in the first eight rows to turn their heads around to watch every time it was illuminated, it worked for those seated in the back of the gym and on the bleachers on the side. I liked that we in the front rows got a close-up view of many performers as they walked to the platform from the stage.

The large chorus of villagers were dressed with costumes rented from D&B Productions and they filled but did not overpower the “Tevye’s Dream” scene staged without tombstones. 

Senior Logan Monaco starred as Tevye the dairyman and took advantage of the school administration’s relaxing of the dress code to grow a full beard, as did the rest of the male members of the cast who were able. Mr. Monaco was a slightly gentle Tevye with a fine singing voice; I saw tears in his eyes as he disowned his third daughter Chava (played well by junior Jillian Fredette) for secretly marrying the Russian soldier Fyedka (played by senior JP Baughman.) Ms. Fredette, who was dance captain for ‘Footloose’ at MAR, also designed some of the choreography for “Chavaleh,” which was lovely.

Marina Kolitsas gave a very strong performance as Tevye’s wife Golde. This wonderful singing actress has appeared in several leading roles in NewArts productions and showed off her acting skills throughout this sixth production at her high school. “Do You Love Me” was her chance to shine. Sophomore Victoria McFarlin appeared as the eldest daughter Tzeitel and Arianna Shovak as Grandma Tzeitel came back from the dead to sing in the dream scene. Emma Baughman did well as the second daughter Hodel, while Lilly Zuccala and Lauren Pruner played the two youngest daughters. Ilona Ludanyi, a junior, was a spectacular Fruma Sarah with the best white gloves ever.

A.J. Vitiello was a very good Motel the tailor, who deserves a little happiness in “Miracle of Miracles.” Junior John Finnegan made a fine Perchik, the radical student who Tevye brings home to give lessons to his daughters in exchange for meals. Gigi Chapleau, a freshman in her first musical ever, was endearingly funny as little Yente, the village matchmaker. Giovanni Fardella, a senior with many credits and a Halo Award, made his mark as Lazar Wolf, the well-off butcher; this actor developed his character very well.

Other characters included Bart Flaherty as the Russian constable, James Vigar as Mordcha the innkeeper, senior Douglas Girardot as the old rabbi, sophomore Zach Demko as his son, Matt Olencki as Avram, David Mercier as Nachum the beggar, Drew Mitchell as Yussel the hatmaker, Brian Kerins as Sasha, Helena Sabo as Motel’s mother, Rebecca Wild as Rifka and sophomore Mary Johnson as the Fiddler who actually played on the roof of the set. Sean Decker, a senior headed to UConn, and junior Matt Gerbo played Russians. 

The transitions done by the students were efficient and timely. Lighting design by Colby Bellone, Mike Campbell and Mr. Farina was simple but effective. The eight adult musicians sat in a line at the back of the stage and sounded terrific. Sound run by students was surprisingly efficient for this very large space and the set design by the director, technical director David Fredette, Steve McFarlin and Don Sabo was large enough for this gym. Hair and makeup were appropriate for the period. 

The director, who is a third grade teacher at Redding Elementary School by day, has choreographed at the Warner Theatre and Musicals at Richter, earning him may OnStage accolades. It was not surprising that this production featured outstanding choreography that was mastered by every dancer, especially evident in “To Life” and the bottle dancing of “The Wedding.”  Musical direction was done by alum and WCSU graduate Samantha Murtha who is now director of the choirs at Immaculate and the show was produced by alum Aislinn Gavin. The lobby design was an extensive and well-researched study of Jewish culture and the cover/logo design was by student (and bottle dancer) Matt Olencki. 

Congratulations to the students at Immaculate High School and the adults who now work with them on an excellent production of this classic musical. It was clear that everyone had worked hard to make it all happen. 

Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and a Connecticut Critic for OnStage blog. She continues to contribute theatre news to local Patch.com sites. Check out her new Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and follow her on Twitter @nancysjanis417
 

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