Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Fiddler has bequeathed to us beloved songswho can imagine how many times "Sunrise, Sunset," the haunting ode to parents' letting go of their sons' and daughters' childhood, has been sung at weddings?a well-received film, productions on five continents, and four Broadway revivals. The most recent Broadway revival opened in 2015 and ran for a year, sending out a beautifully wrought national tour that is now visiting the Orpheum Theatre, closing out the 2018-2019 Broadway on Hennepin series.
Set in 1906, Fiddler on the Roof is based on stories by the Yiddish-American author Shalom Aleichem. It is the tale of a poor milkman, Tevye, living with his wife Golde and five daughters, eking out a living in a small Jewish shtetl called Anatevka. Having only daughtersfive, at that!is a curse for such a poor man who has no dowry to offer, yet must find suitable husbands for each. Of course, Yente the matchmaker is eager to help, but her help is subverted as one by one the eldest three daughters strike out on their own, with such absurd notions as people marrying because they are in love, that girls might learn to read, andmost defiant of allmarrying outside the small circle of their faith community. That community itself is under siege as village after village receives orders from the Tsar expelling all Jews. How long will Anatevka be spared? What options are there for the members of this close-knit community who have known no other life?
In this staging, director Bartlett Sher, who in recent years also helmed praiseworthy Broadway revivals of South Pacific, the King and I, and My Fair Lady, begins with an empty stage, a weathered brick wall at the rear. A wooden sign that might hang from the eaves in a railroad station announces the place: Anatevka. On one side of the stage a bearded man wearing an orange parka, something one might get from Lands' End, reads from a book, speaking the opening lines "A fiddler on the roof? Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village...," while on the other side of the stage a fiddler, garbed in the rustic attire of early 20th century Russia, plays a melody that swells into the glorious opening number, "Tradition."
The reader sheds his parka to become Tevye, and, in the blink of an eye, the stage is populated by the entire Jewish citizenry of Anatevkapapas, mommas, daughters and sons, each affirmed by tradition to know their role within their family, their community, and their faith. It is a framing device that places a story from over a century ago in the context of its continued contemporary significance, returning to effectively wrap the show up at its conclusion.
Fiddler on the Roof is, above all, about the enduring value of tradition in maintaining cultural identity and giving inheritors of a culture a sense of order and a moral compass on which to base life decisions, large and small. In 2019 it is as important as ever, if not more so, to understand this message, as our American society, hailed as a "melting pot," is challenged by differences among our newest arrivals to our land, with some quarters expecting that those who cross our borders quickly jettison their old ways. In truth, the process of assimilation has never been immediate. It has always taken at least a generation, as it did for my own immigrant grandparents, who arrived in the same time frame as Tevye and Golde, and maintained their old language and customs while their children grew to be Americans. The sense of identity that traditions provide in the midst of tremendous upheaval is a valuable, perhaps essential, support for making the adjustment from one homeland to a new life elsewhere.
Joseph Stein's book holds up well. His adept braiding of several Shalom Aleichem stories continues to provide a compelling narrative, and the jokes are still funny, based as they are on the humanity of the characters. The depiction of constraints on the role of girls and women might be thorny in the era of #metoo, but Fiddler itself does not embrace those old values. Rather, it challenges them, boldly asking pious and dutiful parents to accept change after change in their cherished, traditions-bound way of life, pushing them until they reach a wall upon which no further change is possible, for as Tevye cries out "If I bend that far, I will break." The conflict between parents and children who break away from the old values and practices is timeless, and is depicted here with compassion for all.
The musical came to life buoyed by glorious direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins, and subsequent productions invariably recognize his indelible contribution. In this production, Robbins' iconic dance numbers have been reimagined by Hofesh Shechter, an acclaimed Israeli-born choreographer. Many of the familiar groupings and movements remain, but there is an additional burst of energy, as if the passion within breaks through the constraints of piety when these young men (and it is men who perform the most robust dances) let their feet, rather than their heads, take charge. The elaborate "Tevye's Dream" sequence, a swirl of movement drawn from the inner depths that is both frightening and comical, is performed with watch-like precision.
The score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick works perfectly to support Stein's book with intonations of eastern European Jewish melodies in most of numbers, enhanced by new orchestrations by Ted Sperling. An excellent eleven-member orchestra conducted by Michael Uselmann perform beautifully. The set designed by Michael Yeargan convincingly creates locations within AnatevkaTevye's home, his yard, a tavern, a wedding grovewith dark, somber tones. Catherine Zuber's costumes have the appropriate earth-toned, folkloric, and somewhat frayed look for the downtrodden shtetl Jews, and eerie masks effectively adorn the wedding guests during the dream sequence. Donald Holder's lighting design conveys the passing of day to night, and of joy to sorrow.
Israeli actor and director Yehezkel Lazarov wears the milkman's cap as Tevye, playing the familiar character with a softer edge than others I have seen in the role. In his conversations with God, in which he humorously wrestles with the dilemmas life sets before him, he uses a less sonorous tone, avoiding the tendency to sound as if he is forever making pronouncements. Lazarov gives heartfelt delivery to the most moving of wish-fulfillment songs, "If I Were a Rich Man," sounding more wistful than gregarious. He is well matched with Maite Uzal as Tevye's wife Golde, who brooks no monkey business from her husband of twenty-five years, yet knows how much space to allow him to maintain his pride. Their duet, "Do You Love Me?," is, again, delivered with a ray of tenderness and insight that balances out the usual comic squawking.
As the three eldest daughters, Mel Weyn (Tzeitel), Ruthy Froch (Hodel) and Natalie Powers (Chava) all perform marvelously, making their first appearance in "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" into a little mini-play in which they pull back the reins on their galloping eagerness to grow up, sung with lovely harmonies. The soaring "Far From the Home I Love" is given a beautiful reading by Froch, and Powers depicts the agony of having to make the most difficult of choices with gripping conviction.
Jesse Weil is a delightful Motel the tailor, rousingly celebrating his rebirth from lamb to lion in "Miracle of Miracles." As Perchik, the student revolutionary, Ryne Nardecchia conveys his staunch commitment to principal and the awkwardness of his affections. Joshua Logan Alexander is stirring as the Russian youth Fyedka. Carol Beaugard is aptly comical as Yente the Matchmaker, but rushes through her lines a bit, diminishing the usual impression of her character's pumped up self-importance. Jeff Brooks, as the constable, effectively depicts the passive submission to orders that allows hate to prevail.
Fiddler on the Roof describes the experience of diaspora, addressing the uprooting of Jewish communities, but applicable to numerous cultures throughout history. As it shows us, traditions are frameworks that provide strength and continuity to people whose very spirit is under siege. Yet, as valuable as they are, traditions will change over time. So too, this production of Fiddler on the Roof embraces some change, maintaining the narrative, the music, and the artistry of the original, but in subtle ways adjusting it to speak to us as the decades pass. It is a landmark musical, as great as ever and suited to a new day.
Fiddler on the Roof, through August 4, 2019, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $59.00 - $145.00*.* For ticket information call 800-982-2787 or visit hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit http://fiddlermusical.com.
Book: Joseph Stein, based on Shalom Aleichem stories with special permission of Arnold Perl; Music: Jerry Bock; Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick; Director: Bartlett Sher; Original Choreography: Hofesh Shechter; Choreography Recreated by: Christopher Evans; Inspired by the work of: Jerome Robbins; Music Supervision and New Orchestrations: Ted Sperling; Set Design: Michael Yeargan; Costume Design: Catherine Zuber; Lighting Design: Donald Holder; Sound Design: Scott Lehrer & Alex Neumann; Hair and Wig Design: Tom Watson; Additional Set Design and Adaptation: Mikiko Suzuki Macadams; Fight Director: BH Barry. Music Director and Conductor: Michael Uselmann; Dance Arrangements: Oran Eldor; Music Coordinators: John Mezzio; Vocal Arrangements and Additional Arrangements: Justin Paul; Casting: Jason Styres, CSA; Production Stage Manager: Kelsey Clark; Associate Director: Sari Ketter,
Cast: Joshua Logan Alexander (Fyedka), Danielle Allen (Shprintze), Danny Arnold (Mordcha/Villager), Carol Beaugard (Yente), Eric Mitchell Berey (Yussel/Nachum/Villager), Jeff Brooks (Constable), Eloise DeLuca (Villager), Derek Ege (Villager), Ruthy Froch (Hodel), Emerson Glick (Bielke), Olivia Gjurich (Fruma-Sarah/Villager), Michael Hegarty (Rabbi/Villager), Carolyn Keller (Grandma Tzeitel/Shaindel/Villager), Yehezkel Lazarov (Tevye), Paul Moreland (Fiddler/Villager), Gabrielle Murphy (Villager), Jacob Nahor (Villager), Ryne Nardecchia (Perchik), Jack O'Brien (Sasha/Villager), Honza Pelichovsky (Villager), Natalie Powers (Chava), Lynda Senisi (Villager), Nick Siccone (Mendel/Villager), Brian Silver (Avram/Villager), Britte Steele (Villager), Maite Uzal (Golde), Jonathan Von Mering (Lazar Wolf), Jesse Weil (Motel), Mel Weyn (Tzeitel).