FIDDLER ON THE ROOF – Book by Joseph Stein; Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Directed by Bartlett Sher. Presented by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through June 16. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
You’ve all seen one version or another of FIDDLER ON THE ROOFover the years. It is one of the most cherished musicals in the vast collection of Broadway hits and a staple of regional and community theatres worldwide. This particular touring version of FIDDLER was revived and re-imagined in 2015 for the 50th anniversary by noted director Bartlett Sher with enhanced choreography by Hofesh Shechter. So, as they say, everything old is new again; a theme which is enhanced in this production by the appearance at the beginning and end of the program of a figure dressed in a modern red coat reading lines from an old book perhaps to remind us that what was true in 1905 continues to be true today. In a contemporary world full of enforced immigration, it seems timely to put a face, a family name, a community of people to the travellers on the move.
It is, of course, a familiar story. Tevye, his wife Golde, and his five lovely daughters live in a small Russian village of Anatevka in 1905 in somewhat peaceful harmony with their Russian police state. Tevye sells his milk, observes Sabbat, fights with his wife, loves his daughters and fulfills the “Traditions” of his forefathers. Times however are changing. In short order, his authority is diminished when his daughters insist on choosing their own husbands for love instead of depending on the village Yente to find them one. The first chooses a poor tailor instead of a richer older butcher; the second falls in love with a Marxist scholar and moves far from home to be near him; the third commits the most unforgivable sin by choosing to marry a non-Jewish Russian villager. Tevye’s problem is that he loves his girls so much that he can see both sides of the situation and, while wishing to retain some sense of control, can also understand their side of things. His discussions with God over the whole situation form the basis for his decisions in each case.
Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, a minor pogram is visited on the village – first with just a semi-violent “demonstration.” Then later with a full-blown eviction order requiring everyone to leave the village. The final scene of the community packing their meager goods into carts and wagons and journeying away from their beloved Anatevka to other parts of Russia or Jerusalem or America is especially poignant and a somber reminder of Syrian, Venezuelan, and Colombian wanderers today.
Yet for all the conflict and foreboding in the script, there are also joyful, funny moments. Tzeitel (the oldest daughter) and Motel the Tailor’s wedding scene is a wild frenzy of dancing and jubilation. The tavern scene with Tevye, Lazar Wolf and the village men celebrating an engagement turns into a dance competition between the Jewish contingent and the village Russians. When Tevye ponders his own arranged marriage and asks Golde, “Do You Love Me?” the whole audience waits with bated breath to see how she will answer him. Even the explanatory opening number “Traditions” erupts with an unsettled argument about whether it was a horse or a mule that was sold to a villager.
This revised edition of score and choreography trades the dignity of the original Jerome Robbins dances for a more energetic, contemporary version of folk dancing with long black coats flapping and synchronized arms in sharp precision. Even the famous “bottle” dance at the wedding shows that there are no tricks to keep the bottles in place on top of the hats by allowing them to fall when the dancer erred, making the more dynamic movements later in the dance even more precarious. The dream scene when Tevye is trying to convince Golde that they should let the young people get married as they wish by describing his nightmare in which Lazar Wolf’s late wife reappears has been staged as a distorted Keystone Kops routine.
The show belongs to Yehezkel Lazarov, the noted Israeli TV and film actor playing Tevye. His offhand way of delivering throw-away lines and his casual relationship with his God (and his audience) regarding his belief that God could render him just a little richer or just give him a break once and awhile was balanced by his obvious devotion to his daughters (and they to him). He is an upright citizen of his community, a devoted follower of his faith, a loving father, and a dutiful husband. He has every right to hope for a little more than he has and can’t quite understand why it hasn’t happened that way yet. On the other hand . . . .
Lazarov is supported by the steely spined Maite Uzal as Golde, his wife. Even in her longest petticoat, it’s obvious who wears the pants in that family. While gently mocking her husband, she can also turn into a fierce lioness in his defense. His oldest three daughters who force him to rethink his place in the world are given beautifully nuanced performances by Mel Weyn, Ruthy Froch, and Natalie Powers, especially in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” when they suddenly realize that getting married may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The overwhelmingly timid Motel as performed by Jesse Weil provides both comic relief and a wonderful transformation into a man with a mission. Perchik, the rebellious student, as played by Ryne Nardecchia, is your typical sexy bad boy – who could resist him?
Long long ago, the Rockettes played the Buell and in that sparkling evening of precision and synchronization, a long line of dancers one by one turned posters over to spell out a greeting. All went perfectly . . . . except for one about three from the end who had her letter upside down and didn’t even seem to realize it. I loved that it showed they weren’t robots – that they were capable of making a mistake. Midway through the first Act of FIDDLER on opening night, someone backstage started to lower the wrong set piece onto the stage and realized half way down that they had goofed. It slowly rose back into the flies while I could imagine someone getting chewed out over the headphones Errant stagehand – take heart!! It just showed the audience that it was real people running this show, it’s live theatre and stuff happens.
No matter how many times you’ve seen FIDDLER, there’s always something new to enjoy. This production brings a plethora of new and enhanced enjoyments.
A WOW factor of 9!