Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Bookwriter Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick based the show on Sholem Aleichem's stories that focus on the poor Jewish dairy man Tevye, his wife Golde, and their five daughters. Set amongst the changing world around them, Tevye tries to hold on to his traditions and religious customs even as he, his family, and his friends must face anti-Semitism and the Russian expulsion of Jews from their homes in their small village of Anatevka.
Fiddler is not only one of the most popular musicals, but also, I believe, one of the best written musicals of all time. The creators tackle some very serious topics while expertly balancing the weighty subjects with humor. They've also created a tight story, without any unnecessary moments, with memorable characters and perfect dialogue. The score is a treasure trove of songs that are now considered classics, including "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Tradition," and "Sunrise, Sunset."
Bartlett Sher's direction (re-created by Sari Ketter for the tour) adds many original touches and doesn't stick to the blueprint forged by original director Jerome Robbins which many directors of this show done have in the past. These include bookending the show with a modern-day element that helps tie the present to the past and adding other original moments that help keep the material fresh and vibrant. Sher and his cast get big, natural laughs from the humor in the script while also ensuring the emotional impact of the situations that Tevye and his fellow villagers face is firmly felt. Hofesh Shechter's choreography (re-created for the tour by Christopher Evans) adds completely original dances that are influenced by Jerome Robbins' original, famous signature dance steps that have been used in just about every production of the show I´ve seen. It´s refreshing to see new choreography that still works so well for the show´s many large ensemble moments that also pay homage to Robbins' creations. Even the famous wedding bottle dance in the show has been given a fresh take.
With a natural connection to all of his cast members and a beautiful, rich singing voice, Yehezkel Lazarov is exceptional as Tevye. His comic timing is sharp, his facial gestures expressive, and the emotion he brings to Tevye's serious introspective moments, his conversations with God, and the realistically depicted relationship with his wife are beautifully done. As his wife Golde, Maite Uzal is exceptional, instilling layers of strength and emotion along with a sense of warmth underneath the hardened exterior of this overworked, constantly complaining woman that creates a layered, nuanced, and realistic character.
The supporting cast also achieve heartfelt portrayals. As Tevye's oldest daughter Tzeitel and the man she loves, Motel, Kelly Gabrielle Murphy and Nick Siccone create a loving couple. Murphy's facial expressions beautifully depict the frightened young woman who realizes her fate may not be what she had planned, while Siccone is appropriately nervous, with wonderful limber body language, as the shy tailor. As the second to oldest daughter Hodel, Ruthy Froch is strong and sure of herself. Her solo of "Far From the Home I Love" is beautifully sung. Nic Casaula is appropriately full of himself as Perchik, the headstrong stranger who comes to town and falls for Hodel. Noa Luz Barenblat projects a sweet youthfulness, along with a lovely sense of growing power, as the next oldest daughter Chava, and as Fyedka, the Russian who finds himself drawn to Chava, Jack O'Brien instills strength and kindness to what can sometimes be a one-dimensional role.
Carol Beaugard and Jonathan Von Mering present fine portrayals, with moments of humor, of the matchmaker Yente and Lazar Wolf. The entire, large ensemble inject an abundance of energy to the production that brings life, passion and pleasure to their roles and creates a community that celebrates their happy moments while facing the unpleasant moments together. You'd never know from the exceptional talent on display that this was a non-Equity cast.
With beautiful painted drops, a large farmhouse set element, and moving doors and trees, Michael Yeargan's set design uses many components to depict the numerous locations in the show while also creating a warm and inviting, though worn down, village. Yeargan has placed a tree behind Tevye's home that changes throughout the show to depict the change of seasons and the progression of time in the story. Catherine Zuber's costumes are beautiful, with varied patterns and multiple shades of browns, reds and tans, while Donald Holder's gorgeous lighting is used effectively to evoke the warm, sunny days and cool, blue evenings and to provide some whimsy to the dream scenes. Ted Sperling provides new orchestrations which add another fresh element to the show and, under Michael Gilbon's music direction, the cast and orchestra deliver warm, lush notes.
Fiddler on the Roof is a very moving and powerful piece of musical theatre. The touring production is fresh and new, and simply splendid. If you've never seen this show before or if you've seen it a dozen times, you are in for a treat from this exceptionally solid production of a popular and timeless musical that tells the heartfelt story of a simple man, his family, and his fellow villagers who are all confronted by some serious issues in a time of change.
Fiddler on the Roof runs through February 2, 2020, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit fiddlermusical.com.
Original Direction: Bartlett Sher