Saturday, May 4, 2013

Manatee Players stage a strong, emotional 'Fiddler'

   For their first show in their spectacular new theater, Manatee Players staged a spectacular show, the flashy and high-tech “Miss Saigon.”
   Now that they’re easing into the space, still so new that the unobtrusive smell of wet paint lingers, Manatee Players are offering a quieter, more traditional, but no less impressive musical.
   “Fiddler on the Roof” is a gentle but emotional musical that gets its power from characters and delicate writing rather than bombast. 
   That makes the show especially demanding for the performers, but the Manatee Players cast pulls it off admirably.
   The large choral numbers are among the highlights of this staging, but the performances in the important roles are all engaging.
   Tevye, the beleaguered father caught in a struggle between tradition and modernity, is a tough role. He’s the only complex character in the whole show, and anyone who takes on the role has to compete with two legendary performances, by Zero Mostel and Topol.
   Michael Bajjaly makes a fine Tevye, faithful to the spirit of the character without being imitative of the classic performances. Tevye’s wry one-liners  come across just as well as the heaviness of his emotional burden in Bajjaly’s performance.
   The music in “Fiddler” (by Jerry Bock) is not especially melodic -- “If I Were a Rich Man” is a notable exception -- and some songs are difficult to sing. Bajjaly sings some of them imperfectly, but because he’s such an appealing actor, the songs all work. “Do You Love Me?,” a musically awkward song, ends up being the emotional highlight of the show, thanks to the chemistry between Bajjaly and Sharon Albert, who plays his wife Golde. 
   There are a lot of noteworthy performances in smaller roles, especially all three of Tevye’s marrying daughters, Marina Wright, Katherine C. Herbert and Emily Arthur.
   There’s also a really solid seven-piece orchestra.
   Director Cheryl Carty’s approach is straightforward. But she adds a nice touch by having the title character, the actual fiddler, much more prominent than usual. The fiddler, a symbol both of the tradition that binds Tevye and his need to maintain balance, is a nearly constant presence, dancing through across stage at pivotal moments.
   “Fiddler” is on the long side, solidly over two and a half hours, and has only a couple of good songs. So there are times when this production feels tedious. But there are more times when it feels engaging and even powerful.
   Details: Through May 19, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W, Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26-$36. Information: 941-748-5875 or

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