To the kids who think a musical about Jewish tradition would be boring, think again. The most recent U.S. national tour of Fiddler on the Roof at the Orpheum Theatre is humorous and modern.
While set around a family’s struggle to keep Jewish tradition while finding happiness and love in 1905 pogrom-filled Russia, the humor and themes are universal.
In this production directed by Bartlett Sher, the musical opens with the sound of a train and the lights turning onto Tevye in a modern red jacket and no head covering. He reads to the audience and prepares to tell his story before transitioning into his traditional garb, returning in the red only at the end to close the show before joining the line of refugees.
While connecting the story’s antisemitism with the xenophobia and refugee crisis of today, Tevye in red felt like a separate opener rather than the opening to the show. And in closing, the image of Tevye in red and glasses with no hat pulls the audience out of the story early. Audience members shouldn’t need this tangent to see the similarities between the 1905 story and the 2019 reality.
The story also holds up today by presenting the “radical” ideas of marrying for love and girls learning to read as positive (overall) strives away from tradition.
On opening night, Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov drove the show as the poor milkman, Tevye.
In his ‘Are you there God? It’s me, Tevye’ moments, he exuded sarcasm which could be seen on his face from the back of the theater. Lazarov also mastered Tevye’s emotions with his pitch and tone— often exasperation at his daughters’ veering away from tradition.
While Lazarov was strong, Carol Beaugard’s lines as Yente the matchmaker when she first came to speak with Tevye’s wife, Golde (Maite Uzal), felt forced, and the acting of Joshua Logan Alexander as the third daughter, Chava’s (Natalie Powers), gentile suitor Fyedka fell flat with little personality. Tevye’s daughters and the other suitors had strong chemistry together as well as individual character development.
Even the audience played a role in the show. After countless national tours, many people are familiar with the show and know what’s coming next. The audience was high-energy with some whistles and clapping along at the wedding of Tevye’s first daughter, Tzeitel (Mel Weyn), and laughing on cue at Tevye’s wit and Golde’s tongue.
The dances are traditional and graceful, though their fast pace adds excitement. The opening number with separate choreography for the papas, mamas, sons, and daughters sets the scene with the conformative-yet-clashing familial and societal roles. The dancing slows for introspection from Tevye whether he is talking to himself, God or the audience.
Staging and props were simple but transforming. A screen is employed to distance and mute Chava as Tevye ignores her for breaking tradition (“Chavaleh”). Just the use of that screen brings out the emotions of love, hope and hurt between father and daughter.
The emotion, humor, and relevance make this updated version of Fiddler on the Roof a must-see for long-time fans and newcomers.