New York City Theater
"Fiddler on the Roof"
What more can be said about “Fiddler on the Roof”? That it’s a definitive work of art, one of the great Broadway musicals? That, like all accepted works of art, it reflects not only itself but each era in which it appears? That even lesser productions than the splendid one now on display at the Broadway Theater prove that power comes from melding the personal with the societal?
In the current version of the 1964 musical, the time is still 1905, the place still Russia. But top-flight director Bartlett Sher adds a prologue in which a modern-day Tevye enters reading the Sholom Aleichem story we’re about to see. Alone on stage beneath a sign that spells out “Anatevka,” the shtetl where the action takes place, this Tevye is both narrator and participant as he’s whisked back into the story itself. This is still the tale of a religious, hard-working dairyman, his wife, his five daughters, his town and the conflict between tradition and modernity.
At the end, Tevye is again that contemporary figure. By joining the line of villagers exiled from Anatevka by a pogrom, he forcibly reminds us that refugees can crop up anywhere, at any time. We are all, in some sense, displaced. Although the added material seems both unnecessary and heavy-handed, reinforced is the reminder of the plight of outcasts from such places as Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The treatment of women as chattel is another continuing blot on civilization. “Why does a girl have to read?” asks Golde, Tevye’s wife, of an ambitious daughter. “Will it get her a better husband?” So, too, income inequality. “In this world, it’s the rich who are the criminals,” says the rebellious, tradition-defying Perchik, sounding like Bernie Sanders.
Although true to its Yiddish source, with a few jokes thrown in, the show transcends its tribal terrain, proven by its world-wide appeal. Its creators (librettist Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and director / choreographer Jerome Robbins) worried about its general appeal from the outset, but this is basically a work about a family’s – any family’s -- trying to maintain its values in the face of changing times. “Laden with happiness and tears,” with a brilliant score (“If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Matchmaker,” “Far From the Home I Love”), “Fiddler” maintains its position as a classic.
Danny Burstein is a warm and honest Tevye, serious and realistic. Jessica Hecht is a most acerbic Golde and the three marrying-age daughters are played with distinction by Alexandra Silber as Tzeitel, Samantha Massell as Hodel and Melanie Moore as Chava. As Yente, the matchmaker, Alix Korey is both domineering and vulnerable.
Also excellent are Adam Kantor as nerdy, nervy Motel and Ben Rappaport as fiery Perchik. Jessie Kovarsky is a nimble Fiddler, although he’s not really playing the instrument. That assignment is filled, with sentiment and bravado, by Kelly Hall-Tompkins, concertmaster of the very fine, 24-member, “Fiddler” orchestra.
Scenically, the production is remote, giving the impression some (maybe the director?) would have preferred a blank stage with no scenery. The show’s basic elements – score, story, actors and Hofesh Shechter’s dynamic choreography – transport modern audiences both backwards and forwards into mankind’s will to endure.
--David A. Rosenberg
January 26, 2016