Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Fiddler on the Roof
The three musicals I mentioned aren't only extremely popular but I believe they are also some of the best written shows of all time. Each one has a succinct book and perfect score, with each scene and each song adding to the plot or fleshing out the thoughts and feelings of the characters without any unnecessary fluff.
Bookwriter Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick based Fiddler on Sholem Aleichem's stories, which focus on the poor Jewish dairy man Tevye, his wife, their five daughters, and the people who inhabit their small town in Russia, Anatevka. Set at the turn of the 20th century, the musical depicts how Tevye tries to hold on to his traditions and religious customs within the changing world around him. As he and his family and friends deal with typical daily activities and life events, including the marriages of his eldest daughters, Tevye and his fellow Jewish residents are also faced with the ugliness of anti-Semitism as the expulsion of Jews from their homes spreads across the small villages in Russia.
While it's a serious story with many dramatic moments, there is also a lot of humor in the show. The characters are memorable, realistic, and fully fleshed out. The score includes several classic musical theatre songs, including "Tradition," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," and "Sunrise, Sunset."
Under Bartlett Sher's direction (recreated by Sari Ketter for the tour), the revival takes a fresh look at the material, which is refreshing after seeing so many productions modeled on the original. This includes adding brief modern-day moments that bookend the musical and help show the impact of the past on the present without changing anything in the script. Also, Sher has ensured there is much warmth and personal connections among many of the characters, specifically Tevye and his family, that make their devotion to each other profound.
This production also makes a major change from just about every other one I've seen, and I think I've seen about 20, by not adhering closely to Jerome Robbins' renowned original choreography. Choreographer Hofesh Shechter has added refreshing steps that are vibrant, bold, and almost athletic in nature at times. He's even given a fresh take on the famous bottle dance number, although it's still in line with Robbins' superb original. Shechter's Broadway revival choreography is beautifully recreated for the tour by Christopher Evans and danced exceptionally well by the cast.
The non-Equity tour cast is wonderful, with all delivering strong performances that are realistic. Jonathan Hashmonay is warm and grounded as Tevye, with an exceptional singing voice that brings nuance and emotional depth to each lyric he sings. Tevye is the rock of the show, and it would seem of Anatevka, and Hashmonay has a beautiful and natural connection with all of his fellow cast mates. His performance has sharp comic timing that get big laughs but he also perfectly depicts Tevye's inner struggles with the changes in the world and Tevye's heartfelt conversations with God. It's a wonderful and lively performance of this beloved character.
As Tevye's wife Golde, Maite Uzal, who has been with this tour for a few years, is equally as good as Hashmonay. Golde is a strong woman but also a wife and mother who is overworked and constantly complains. Uzal ensures we see that underneath Golde's firm exterior is a loving woman with layers of emotion and warmth. Like Hashmonay, Uzal is delivering a rich performance of this classic character.
Randa Meierhenry and Daniel Kushner are wonderful as Tevye and Golde's oldest daughter Tzeitel and the man she loves, Motel, a nervous but loving couple. Meierhenry has wonderful facial expressions that perfectly get across her fear and concern when she realizes she may be married off to a man she doesn't love. Kushner delivers one of the best portrayals of the nervous Motel I've seen as he doesnt resort to unnatural ticks or traits other actors have used in this role that make the character somewhat unrealistic and overly comical.
As the second to oldest daughter Hodel, GraceAnn Kontak's delivery of her solo of "Far From the Home I Love" is gorgeous and she instills this sure-of-herself character with a firm strength. As Perchik, the stranger who comes to town and falls for Hodel, Austin J. Gresham is bright, appropriately impulsive, and full of himself. Yardén Barr is warm and sweet as the next eldest daughter Chava, and Carson Robinette is kind and caring as Fyedka, the Russian who finds himself drawn to Chava.
In supporting roles, Mary Beth Webber is humorous as the nosey matchmaker, Yente, and Andrew Hendrick is strong as the butcher, Lazar Wolf. The entire ensemble deliver rich and rousing performances.
Michael Yeargan's set design uses a combination of large drops and smaller moving set pieces to quickly depict the various locations in the show. Catherine Zuber's costume designs use fabrics in hues of reds and browns which create a beautiful and rich tapestry while also being period perfect. The lighting by Donald Holder is gorgeous, with various colors and shadows to depict the hot summer days and the harsh winter months. In addition to having fresh takes on the direction and choreography, there are also new orchestrations by Ted Sperling that are rich and gorgeous and sound wonderful as played by the 12-piece orchestra under the music direction of Jonathan Marro. The sound design by Scott Lehrer and Alex Neumann delivers some of the clearest sound I've heard in a show at the Orpheum.
While Fiddler on the Roof may tell the story of the Jewish residents from a small village in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, it is a universal story that practically anyone can relate to, no matter what religion you are. It's a timeless tale about those who are oppressed and forced by others out of their homes, which, unfortunately, is something we've seen daily on the news for months now with the war in Ukraine. The tour dedicates each performance to the people in the Ukraine who are suffering. Fiddler has a serious story, but it also has humor and hope. It's a powerful piece of musical theatre and the national tour production is wonderful, with an exceptional cast that beautifully show how a community can come together to not only celebrate the happy moments they share but also to face head on the unpleasant moments they must endure.
Fiddler on the Roof runs through December 4, 2022, at the Orpheum Theatre, 203 W Adams Street, Phoenix AZ. For information and tickets, please visit www.americantheatreguild.com/phoenix/. For information on the tour, visit fiddlermusical.com.
Original Direction: Bartlett Sher