Saturday, February 13, 2016

Review of "Fiddler on the Roof"

The current revival of Fiddler on the Roof is a highly satisfying production with a solid cast, exuberant choreography, and a memorable score by the legendary team of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock.  The book of the show by Joseph Stein, is based on the short stories of Sholem Aleichem.  It centers on Teyve (Danny Burstein), a milkman; his wife, Golde (Jessica Hecht) and five daughters all who live in the small Russian town of Anatevka.  It is a hard and demanding existence where the old ways are rapidly changing.  The focus of these changes are brought to the fore by Teyve’s three eldest children who’s courtship and marriage challenge age-old traditions and religious beliefs. 

What makes Fiddler such a beloved musical are its universal themes centering on family and religious tolerance and oppression.  In the cacophony of today’s Presidential election they resonant even more loudly.  While the Jewishness of the material is obvious and pronounced it is dealt with in a manner where all faiths, all audience members can relate to the subject matter.  Look at the original production’s accomplishments—it was the first Broadway musical to surpass 3,000 performances and for most of the 1970’s it was the longest running Broadway show in history.

The heartbeat of the musical is the score by the renowned Broadway team of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock.  It’s richness is truly one of the most distinguished in all musical theater.  From the exuberant opening of “Tradition” to the joyous “If I Were a Rich Man” and “To Life” to the touching “Do You Love Me” to the closing, somber note of “Anatevka” there is not one song that isn’t a melodic, glorious gem. 

The cast is workman-like and skilled, which is an attribute to the production.  The character of Teyve, for example, is the central focus of the musical, and should be an everyday type person as opposed to being portrayed as the star.  Danny Burstein, as Teyve, displays this commonplace quality and hardiness of soul.  The audience can relate to his trials and tribulations of being a parent in a new age.  Jessica Hecht as his wife Golde, can be somewhat dour, but her steadfastness and inner fortitude provide a more grounded sensibility about the family’s struggles.  The three eldest daughters—Tzeitel (Alexandra Silber), Hodel (Melanie Moore), and Chava (Jenny Rose Barker)—are spirited, with one foot firmly in the future, but one foot proudly in the past.  Adam Kantor as Motel, the Tailor, is a bit too jittery and apprehensive at first before growing more comfortable and assured in his role.  Ben Rappaport as Perchik, the rebel student, is forceful with his convictions, but could be more attentive and affectionate to his betrothed.  Nick Rehberger as Fyedka, a Russian youth who is a non-Jew, does a convincing job of walking the fine line between his world and that of his future wife.

Director Bartlett Sher, who has successfully helmed such large-scale Lincoln Center productions as South Pacific and the current revival of The King and I, nimbly and energetically guides the large cast of Fiddler on the Roof.  Whether in scenes with a multitude of performers or those more intimate Sher shows his strength and artistry.  However, sometimes his sensibilities run rampant, creating a more bloated feel that takes away from the essence of a scene as in “The Dream” sequence.  His decision to use a fiddler, roaming the stage at integral moments, is unnecessary and distracting as is the opening moments of the show with the actor Danny Burstein playing a modern day relative looking forlornly at the remnants of his ancestor’s birthplace.

Choreographer Hofesh Shechter, a newcomer to the Broadway stage and a dance director of Israeli background, brings a unique dynamism and perspective to the production numbers.  The vitality and ethnicly-tinged dances honor and celebrate the tradition of original choreographer, Jerome Robbins.  At the same time he stakes out his own

Fiddler on the Roof, a triumphant and jubilant musical for audiences of all ages and faiths.

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