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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Big musical 'Fiddler' works well on tiny stage

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ST. PETERSBURG — “Fiddler on the Roof,” a sweeping saga confined to a tiny stage. Sounds crazy, no?

But here in the little freeFall Theatre, you might say every bit of it works really well. It wasn’t easy, but the cast and crew made it look that way. That was the main thing I took away after watching a preview performance Saturday.

I was admittedly curious about the logistics of giving justice to a full-scale musical in a confined space. For those who haven’t been to this cozy venue, it’s basically theatre-in-the-square, but director Eric Davis cleverly used every resource at his disposal. That meant cast members and musicians served as stagehands for set changes, and to keep things moving the transition between scenes was choreographed and incorporated into the play.

The intimacy of the setting brought the audience right into the action, which seemed to give extra energy to the cast. And a fine cast it was.

David Mann was convincing as the conflicted patriarch Tevya, caught between respect for tradition and the demands of changing times. He had great chemistry with Meaghan Colleen Moroney as his wife, Golda. I had no trouble believing those two could have been a couple.

Moroney was simply wonderful, with her stage presence and powerful voice shining on full display in the poignant “Sabbath Prayer” and “Do You Love Me?,” a tender duet with her and Mann.

Lucas Wells stood out as the idealistic, fiery Perchik.

Anna Maureen Tobin, a St. Petersburg High School International Baccalaureate student, was equally good as daughter Chava. She joined with Georgia Mallory Guy (Tzeitel) and Hannah Benitez (Hodel) to present an rousing version of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

That’s another challenge for a production like this. The songs and dialogue of this play are so well-known, the audience is going to notice quickly if things aren’t working. That wasn’t a problem here. Still, it was the things most people wouldn’t notice that shows how well this went.

For instance, a small venue like this can get swallowed by the sound of big musical production numbers like “Tradition” the dream sequence. The sound was just perfect, though. It was loud enough to be clear, but wasn’t oppressive. The lighting was subdued and at times appropriately moody — another plus.

And even when the cast filled the confined stage, it never seemed overcrowded. Choreographer Rick D’Onofrio deserves a nod for that.

I would have loved to be in on the original meeting where organizers said, “What do you think about trying ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in our teeny, tiny theatre?” I probably would have been in “sounds crazy” chorus, but this troupe made it work in a big way.

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