Fiddler on the Roof

Barlett Sher, director

2016 Broadway revival National Tour

Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof

 

Director Barlett Sher’s 2016 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof embarked on a National tour with opening weeks Syracuse, then for a week’s run at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.  Jerome Robbins’ 1964 original production was a sensation and this major revival, under Sher’s direction proves Fiddler has lost none of its luster, starting with its powerhouse score by composer Sheldon Harnick and lyricist Jerry Bock is not only vintage musical classic, but all the richer now, with the new orchestrations by Ted Sperling. and a vibrant 10 piece orchestra led by musical director/conductor Michael Uselmann.

Fiddler is based on stories by Sholem Aleichem about the peasants in Anatevka, a Russian shtetl circa 1905 where life was as perilous as a fiddler on the roof. Tyeve, the dairyman, and his Golde are struggling to raise their five daughters , a poor Jewish family keeping the traditions of their faith and culture in a quickly changing world, with revolution in the air and the czar’s dragoons brutalize the Russian Jews.

The original production was criticized for sanitizing many of the brutal realities that Aleichem describes, but Sher’s production in subtle ways gives it a harsher, more realistic edge, especially visually, that resonates.

Meanwhile, it is a musical to behold right from the start with the thrilling prologue number ‘Tradition.’ A showstopper made so iconic by Zero Mostel that it was hard to imagine anyone else but singing it, but the part of Tevye, is such a theatrically big role- full of pathos, humor, musicality that seasoned actors can put their stamp on it.

Fiddler on the Roof

Yehezkel Lazarov stars as Tevye in the Barlett Sher’s National tour of the 2016 B’way revival of Fiddler on the Roof

There have been many great Tevyes- Topol, Hershel Bernardi (who I saw on Broadway in 1967), Theodore Bickel, just to name a few and Sher has cast Israeli film and stage star Yehezkel Lazarov who can definitely be added to that list, delivering an altogether powerhouse vocal and soulful performance.  Maite Uzal’s makes the most of a mostly one note role as Golde,  especially ‘Do You Love Me’ her touching duet with Tevye.  Golde is one of the sketchier aspects of Fiddler’s book by Joseph Stein

Of course one of the other star of Fiddler is the celebrated choreography by Robbins, also in a class by itself in its spirited documentation of traditional Hasidic dance and Russian folkloric dance, with new variations by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter giving it even more refinement and cultural depth.  The show’s dance cast in top form throughout.

Tevye and Golde are raising their five daughters in a time of political upheaval in Russia. But Tevye has other things on his mind. Golde and Yente, the town matchmaker have arranged for their oldest daughter Tzeitel to be married off to Lazar Wolf, the old town butcher, who Tevye’s foe. But Golde makes them meet and Tevye consents to the marriage. The set up for a scene for both men to get drunk and the rousing number “To Life” the mens’ dance is fueled to a frenzy after a few drinks and met with the outsiders from the city who fly into acrobat Cossack flips, spins, ground kick outs. The two groups mix into one wild dance bacchanal.

Kudos to Paul Morland for his flawless physicality (& string syncing)  and as the Fiddler, and of course the real violinist Ionut Corsarea playing those solo lines from the pit.

Strong lead cast all around headed by Lazarov and Maite Uzal as Golde, trying to be practical in her love by being rigidly practical by arranging their marriages with the Yente, the matchmaker.  But Tzeitel, their eldest, is secretly in love with Motel, the poor tailor and they want to marry.   Golde tells Tzeitel,  she must marry Lazar Wolf, the 60-year-old butcher.  Tzeitel is horrified and melts Tevye’s heart until he in gives in, concocting an outrageous story of a haunted dream to convince Golde she should marry the young tailor.

Meanwhile, Hodel (Ruthy Frock) falls in love with Perchik (Ryan Nardecchia) a scholar & political dissident.   Tevye sees them intimately talking and intends to put a stop to it.  But  Perchik announces that they are in fact engaged and will not be asking Tevye permission to marry, but want his blessing.  He weighs it out with his discussions with God, and gives in.   Chava (Natalie Powers) falls in love with Fyedka, the young non-Jewish man and this match tests Tevye’s love the most.

Strong performances by all of the supporting lead cast – Meg Wen, Ruthy Froth and Natalie Power, the three eldest daughters all in fine voice right out of the gate with “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”  Strong chemistry between all of these young couples. Theatrically they have wonderful matches in Ryne Nardecchia as Perchik, the scholar;  Joshua Logan Alexander as Fyedka and Jessie Weil, the sweetest bari-tenor rendition of ‘Miracle of Miracles.’

Carol Beaugard’s Yente is played for all of its comic relief and hearkens back to authentic Yiddish theater of early 20th century.  Even broader comedy comes in Tevye’s made up dream with Golde’s Grandma Tzeitel (Carolyn Keller) and the butcher’s dead first wife Fruma-Sarah, conjured by the hilariously scary soprano range of Olivia Gjurich. Jonathan von Merling also brings character humor to the crusty butcher Wolf.

Fiddler on the Roof

Wedding scene from Fiddler on the Roof

Absolutely stunning and impressive staging of the wedding scene that shifts from gorgeous ceremonial and the stirring ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ chorale captivates musically and visually.  After the ceremony, it turns into a joyous celebration with the famous bottle dance with the men in those dramatic knee drop steps across the stage with bottles on their heads, is vintage Robbins.  The celebration is destroyed when Russian military come to terrorize the guests and tear the place apart.

The rustic sets by Michael Yeargan, in tandem with Donald Holder’s lighting design, has a poetic realism that conjures memorable stage pictures. The ending tableau of the brutal realities of  the peasants driven out of Anatevka.  even as the Fiddler’s songs haunt with universal hope.