Fiddler on the Roof

The national touring production of  Fiddler on the Roof, under Sammy Dallas Bayes’ direction, proves to be quite run-of-the-mill. There is still the galloping, finger-snapping rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man”, and the silly yet sincere satire of the small Jewish village of Anatevka. And keeping with tradition – pun intended –

Harvey Fierstein as Tevye (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Bayes, who also serves as choreographer, emulates the giddy cultural glow of Jerome Robbins’ original dance sequences. Certainly, tradition is always something to keep in mind – but like our dirt-poor protagonist Tevye, without change, it can get a little bland. And at times, in Bayes’ production, bland can be an understatement.

Thankfully, that’s why Harvey Fierstein’s name graces the top billing. The frog-throated actor who gave us the great Torch Song Trilogy might seem like a radical choice for audiences so acquainted with Zero Mostel’s classic drawl from the Original Cast Recording. For a voice that sticks out like a sore thumb, it’s Fierstein’s Tevye that really mends the detachment many will have with the supporting cast. Living in their little village within Tsarist Russia, Teyve and his wife Golde (Susan Cella) make ends meet with their five single daughters. The girls whittle away the days doing chores and preparing themselves for eventual motherhood, at their parents’ behest. But this couples with their biggest fear – arranged marriages on behalf of the matchmaker Yente (Mary Stout).

Oldest daughter Tzeitel (Kaitlin Stillwell) has been propositioned by the 40-years-her-senior rich butcher Lazar Wolf (David Brummel), while she wishes the hand of humble Motel (Zal Owen). Daughter Hodel (Jamie Davis) admires the well-read university student Perchik (Colby Foytik), but his radical opinions of their homespun Jewish traditions directly opposes her parents’ own plans. And daughter Chava (Deb Grausman) has fallen for the young Russian Fydeka (Matthew Marks) – which doesn’t really settle well with anybody in Anatevka. How can Tevye handle all of these difficulties, considering his life’s work and dedication to the Good Book seems to be challenged altogether? With this, Fierstein raises his head to the heavens and continues a colorful dialogue with the fourth wall (or should I say ceiling) that lends the show some well-needed soul.

I’m sure some will argue that Fierstein’s performance edges over-the-top, yet he steps and struts his Tevye in a footloose fashion that justifies his character’s eventual conversions. Here we are given a man whose best conversations are with one that never appears, and that alone can make or break a role. Whether it’s his beat-around-the-bush antics with Susan Cella, or his heartbroken blessing at the finale, Tevye is tailored to tend an impatient audience. Yet that hardly forgives Fiddler‘s nearly-3-hour run time, much less the unimaginative scenic design from Steve Gilliam which seems to have been pulled straight from 1964. The technical aspects didn’t have immediate faults, but nothing stood out as fresh for a show that’s nearly 50 years old.

The supporting cast delivers in broad strokes, whether it be Foytik’s tamed outtake as the outspoken rebel Perchick, or Owen’s feeble Motel. What’s most tragic is the lack of interest in the three daughters, as their stories and names remain interchangeable as the story rolls along. “Sunrise, Sunset” slogs motionlessly as if the cast just wants to make it to the dance sequence, “Far from the Home I Love” hardly marks a tearjerking farewell, while “Miracle of Miracles” seems – as it always was – superfluous. The families pack up, forced to leave Anatevka and keep moving along. Despite Fierstein’s charm, I felt like Tevye walking out of the theatre – this too shall pass.

Fiddler on the Roof

music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Joseph Stein
directed by Sammy Dallas Bayes
the national tour is presented at the National Theatre
reviewed by Phil Calabro

Fiddler on the Roof closes May 2nd, 2010.

Reviews:

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

DCTS review

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