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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Fierstein Heartily Headlines Fiddler on the Roof
at the Paramount

Fiddler on the Roof
Harvey Fierstein and The Company
When the current national tour of the Tony Award-winning Broadway perennial Fiddler on the Roof was booked to play Seattle's Paramount in the 2009-2010 season, Chaim Topol, original star of the West End premiere version of the show, and Oscar nominee in the role of Tevye for the 1971 film was headlining. But, due to a shoulder injury sustained in the tour's early stretches, the actor bowed out and was succeeded by Harvey (Hairspray, Torch Song Trilogy) Fierstein, who had proven his chops in the role as a long-run replacement in the Broadway revival a few seasons back. The opening night Seattle audience embraced Harvey's take on Tevye, and why not? Is he the best singer to ever fill the role? Hardly, yet his uniquely guttural vocal style takes away only a little from some of the more melodic moments in Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's still charming score. And in every other respect he more than meets the demands of playing musical theatre's most beloved dairyman. And he unquestionably gets the most laughs out of Joseph Stein's script, and sneaks in a few of his own, but never to the detriment of the piece. His is a Tevye to treasure.

Director Sammy Dallas Bayes, who recreated original Broadway director/choreographer Jerome Robbin's choreography for the film version, hews closely to the Robbins blueprint, but infuses the whole production with a vitality and swiftness of pacing, and freshness. The show runs three hours, including intermission, with only one song (the thruway villagers number "I Just Heard") trimmed from the original, but it feels quicker. Sholom Aleichem's folk tales of the turn-of-the-century Russian Jewish community in Anatevka, centering on Tevye, his wife Golde and their five daughters, still stands as one of the best musicals of the 1960s, a testament to the talents and ingenuity of Stein, Bock and Harnick, and most of all, Robbins. But it can feel like a museum piece, though this production certainly doesn't.

Fierstein, a strong, sensitive, openly gay actor, proved he knew how to play a proud, protective Papa way back in Torch Song Trilogy, and his warmly affectionate relationship with his stage daughters is palpable, as is his convincing pairing with Susan Cella, whose finely detailed and subtle work as Tevye's devoted wife Golde is an ideal counterbalance to Fierstein's broader approach. Always a crowd pleaser and heart tugger, the touching and funny duet "Do You Love Me" between the pair is probably the single most affecting number in this revival. Mary Stout is a bombastic, long-suffering delight as Yente the Matchmaker, and David Brummel as Lazar Wolf, the butcher who just misses out on being Tevye's mature son-in-law, is most effective in a warmer than usual take on the role.

Stand-out supporting performances include Kaitlin Stillwell as Tzeitel, Jamie Davis as Hodel, and Deborah Grausman as Chava, the three eldest daughters whose unconventional marital choices signal a breakdown in the traditions Tevye and his peers hold scared. The trio delivers an exuberant "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," and Davis employs her war soprano to good use in the wistful solo "Far from the Home I Love." As Tzeitel's beloved, the tailor Motel, Zal Owen conveys his character's mounting self-confidence, and delivers solidly on his solo "Miracle of Miracles." Colby Foytik is acceptable, if unremarkable, as Hodel's scholarly beau Perchik, while Matthew Marks as Chava's gentile love interest Fyedka seems way too contemporary. Joel Bernstein is a droll delight as the Anatevka's aging Rabbi, and the rest of the company are able to convey the community of Anatevka with aplomb, with a particular nod to the solid male dancers featured in "To Life" and "The Bottle Dance."

As touring productions go, the highest marks for production values are earned by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz's accomplished lighting design. Tony Ray Hicks's costumes and Steve Gilliam's scenic design are suitable facsimiles of the original designs on Broadway.

In the end, Fiddler rises or falls on its Tevye, and Harvey Fierstein's firepower in the role propels this production. He is lovable, giving to his fellow actors, and is a performer born to be seen on the stage. And he is proof positive that a gay actor, contrary to what you may have read in Newsweek, can totally inhabit a heterosexual character.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through May 30th at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St, downtown Seattle. For tickets or information contact them at 877-STG-4TIX or visit them online at www.tickets.com, www.stgpresents.org, or www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.


Photo: Carol Rosegg

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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