A Fresh Touring “Fiddler” Dances Thrillingly on the Edge at Proctors
There is always a time for “Fiddler on the Roof” which has not gone out of fashion since its record breaking 1964 debut on Broadway when it was the first musical to run for over 3,000 performances. The smash-hit musical premiered less than a year after JFK’s assassination, a month after a race riot in Philadelphia and the attacking of an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin which resulted in the ramping up of military advisors to Viet Nam. The masterwork was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and has music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and a book by Joseph Stein and is an adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye and His Daughters.”
“Fiddler on the Roof” tells of Tevye the poor dairyman with five daughters who must balance like the titular musician between maintaining his cultural and religious traditions and the wishes of his three eldest strong-willed daughters who wish to marry for love. He struggles to keep his family together in their increasingly threatened small village and maintain their heritage and traditions in the face of his girl’s rebelliousness and threats from the Tsar which could banish the Jews from their homes. He must decide when to bend, draw the line, walk away or run.
The current touring production is derived from the most recent Broadway revival directed by Bartlett Sher who has recently done superb revivals of “My Fair Lady,” “The King & I” and “South Pacific.” He is currently represented on Broadway with Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” This production like its star Yehezkel Lazarov moves nimbly and gracefully through its running time with a performative aspect that gave the production a light and playful air of transitoriness. The stage is bare most of the time and thin set pieces roll on and off as needed. The trees are on wheels. There are no walls, only door frames or memorably a mirror frame in Tevye’s dream. The village is seven houses cut out that fly in and there are two beautiful painted backdrops of peaceful skies, a dusky orange sunset used in the wedding and midnight blue in “Tevye’s Dream.” There is a breathtaking tableau with four tables rolled on, lighting candles observing the “Sabbath Prayer” The opening image is a train sign to Anatevka hanging stage left and a single chair stage right with a curtain of painted brick upstage. The stunning set design is by Michael Yeargan and lighting by Donald Holder. The opening sound cue is of a train approaching and passing by to parts unknown.
After Tevye introduces the metaphor embodied by a purple jacketed Fiddler inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall played by Ali Arian Molaei, he asks himself, the audience and God with whom he has frequent counsel, “how does a man keep his balance?” The musical answers with the fantastic opening number “Tradition” introducing the structure of small-town Jewish life and everybody’s roles and what is expected of them. Very quickly the family is visited by the town matchmaker Yente (a terrifically underplayed Carol Beaugard) who tells Tevye’s wife Golde (formidable Maite Uzal) that her daughter Tzeitel (splendid Kelly Gabrielle Murphy) is wanted by the much older town butcher Lazar Wolf (commanding Jonathan Von Mering). Tzeitel’s younger sisters Hodel (equally independent Ruthy Froch) and Chava (everyone’s favorite Noa Luz Barenblat) comfort her with “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” but Tzeitel is having none of it.
She wants to marry her childhood friend Motel the tailor (Nick Siccone) and soon Hodel will set her eyes on the penniless Perchik (imposing Nik Casaula) and even more dangerously Chava will fall in love with the goyim Fyedka (tall & handsome Jack O’Brien). Tevye negotiates with his wife, the butcher and most spectacularly with Golde’s Grandmother Tzeitel (Hilarious and unsettling Brooke Wetterhahn) in the spectacular “Tevye’s Dream” where Tevye tries to convince Golde that Tzeitel is meant to marry Motel with the help of his nightmarish apparition of the butcher’s first wife Fruma-Sarah. The scene begins off handedly with Tevye blurting out names in his “sleep” and spins wildly out of control with his imaginings taking on grotesque proportions-huge heads, long fingered hands, increasingly bigger and taller until Fruma-Sarah enters standing 20 feet high. It’s a beautiful, expressive, artful nightmare played out in front of a sea blue sky adorned with stars.
Yehezkel Lazarov in this scene and throughout the show is superb and unlike any Tevye I have ever seen before. He is startling quick with his dialogue, his responses are always human and he has the easiest familiarity in his many conversations with God. He had a satisfied exhalation and a ready hip-shake during “Tradition.” He doesn’t lose a single laugh in the script but maintains his balance with a welcome equanimity…until he loses it. He was terrific company all evening, has a lovely singing voice and his eventual fate rose to the tragic. A Tevye for our times! Maite Uzal’s Golde was his match and then some but again she as well did not resort to the comic rhythms you might have playing in your head from repeated trips to “Fiddler.” Their duet on “Do You Love Me?” was tender, pleading and refreshingly vulnerable. Beautiful!
The orchestra under the direction of Musical Conductor Michael Gildin and the sound throughout the evening was crystalline. The choreography by Hofesh Shechter, recreated by Christopher Evans was especially vibrant and explosive. The men during “To Life” took on the aspect of challenging, warring gangs in the barroom toast “To Life.” The Fiddler’s need for balance was thrillingly personified during the bottle dance at the wedding as a dancer breathtakingly managed to slide across the stage on his knees with a tall bottle perched on his head. At one point, he unbelievably slid twenty feet on one knee across the floor and the bottle never moved. I gasped like the first time I saw the Moonwalk.
At the end of the evening, facing the uncertain future Tevye considers what becomes of us when we follow the dictum “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” He answers “The world will be blind and toothless.” There is a closing image that unites us with the characters. The refugees of Anatevka begin their journey, through life and across the world and we are them. In our endless trek, may our hours be filled with such joyous celebrations of life as “Fiddler on the Roof.”