The classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof” is so well written that it almost never fails to stir laughs and tears over Tevye the Milkman’s efforts to survive and hold on to traditions.
How much you laugh or are moved depends on the quality of the production, and audiences are being treated to varying levels in the new version staged by Cheryl Carty for the Manatee Players.
The show looks terrific in the new Manatee Performing Arts Center. Tevye, played by an engaging Michael Bajjaly, has plenty of room to drag his milk cart across the stage, and there is space for the residents of Anatevka to sing together about “Tradition” and their woes caused by the oppression by Russian authorities.
Michael J. Kent’s set of various ramshackle wood buildings and Jean Boothby’s costumes give you a feeling of poverty and the residents’ fierce determination to survive.
It’s safe to say that many audience members have seen “Fiddler” before and bring some of those feelings with them. Joseph Stein’s book and Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s score add rich substance that isn’t always supported by performances that go only so deep into the characters in this production.
There are some terrific voices under musical director Bobby Brader, but the musical pace, even in ballads like “Far from the Home I Love,” moves too fast for actors to fully connect to the lyrics.
That may be why the broad and comical sequence called “The Dream” works so effectively. This is Tevye’s fanciful concoction to convince his wife, Golde, that they should allow their oldest daughter, Tzeitel, to marry the poor tailor she loves instead of the wealthy butcher as arranged by Yente, the Matchmaker.
It’s a nightmarish dream and everything is over the top, so by the time Dawn Daugherty rides in as some sort of shrieking and flying spirit of the butcher’s late wife, it all works to make you laugh and feel relief at how Golde reacts.
But the show requires more emotional depth. Bajjaly has great energy, a good sense of humor and a world-weary look, but the lines come too quickly. He is paired with Sharon Albert as Golde, who has the right touch of fierceness but not much else.
Marina Wright and Abe Johnson have a good rapport as Tzeitel and Motel, though not as compelling as Nick Drivas as the progressive student Perchik and Katherine C. Herbert as Hodel. Emily Arthur displays some range as Chava, who falls for a Russian soldier, and Rik Robertson brings a commanding presence to his role as the butcher. Meg Newsome also gets some laughs for her broad take on Yente.
Choreographer Kelly Burnette nicely follows the original creations of Jerome Robbins, with a few variations to suit this cast so that everyone looks to have a place and purpose. The Bottle Dance during Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding is well-handled.
And you could pretty much say that about the entire show. There’s nothing illuminating or ground-breaking, but it all works effectively enough to remind you why this story of poor Russian Jews in early 20th century has become so universally beloved.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Directed by Cheryl Carty. Reviewed May 2, Manatee Players at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 3rd Ave. W., Bradenton. Through May 19. Tickets are $26-$36; $15 for teachers and $13 for students. 748-5875; manateeplayers.com.