In the 1980s, my parents fled the Soviet Union to begin new lives in the United States. Though they spent years learning English and acclimating to American culture, their identities remained steeped in their Jewish-Soviet traditions. To this day, my mother always wears a scarlet string to ward off the evil eye, and my father still enjoys concocting a cup of slightly sour kefir.
While the musical Fiddler of the Roof takes place decades before my parents’ journeys to the U.S., I felt aspects of their refugee experiences beautifully reflected in this touring performance of the 2015 Broadway revival. It’s a vibrant production that relays universal aspects of migration through heart-pumping showstoppers about traditional Jewish culture and tear-jerking ballads about change and leaving home. With new choreography and experimental directorial choices, this version of the show contains refreshingly novel elements while staying rooted in its familiar bottle dance and spotlit monologues to God.
Taking place in the fictional Russian shtetl of Anatevka in the early 20th century, Fiddler revolves around the humorous and pious Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov), a poor milkman who tries his best to deal with life’s hardships. As his oldest daughters Tzeitel (Kelly Gabrielle Murphy), Hodel (Ruthy Froch), and Chava (Noa Luz Barenblat) present challenges to his core, Jewish beliefs, Tevye becomes strained between the familiar comforts of tradition and the uneasiness of change—all while the threat of a pogrom looms over Anatevka.
Lazarov, an Israeli actor, gives us a brilliantly charismatic Tevye. I’ve seen many actors take their time with Tevye’s lines, speaking in slow, swinging rhythms and dipping their voices to produce growls from the backs of their throats. Lazarov, instead, speeds up Tevye’s’s cadence, creating an infectiously energetic of Tevye. This leads to dramatic juxtaposition when Lazarov slows down to relay the character’s more serious moments in a reserved manner.
Lazarov’s singing, however, isn’t all that amazing; there were even moments during which he was on the cusp of being off-key. But I place his vocals in the same category as Lin Manuel Miranda’s: not perfect but still full of life and rich characterization.
Alongside Lazarov is a host of powerful performers. Murphy, Froch, and Barenblat are the strongest singers of the cast. Their “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” was light and bell-like, and Froch’s “Far From the Home I Love” was silkily melancholy. Golda, Tevye’s tough and witty wife, is played by Maite Uzal, who successfully relay’sGolda’s commanding demeanor through soldier-like movements and a resonant voice. The rest of are as colorful as always. The original idiosyncrasies of Anatevka’s villagers are alive and well in this production. Yente the matchmaker (Carol Beaugard) chats Golda’s ear off. Motel the tailor (Nick Siccone) visibly shakes with nerves.
As mentioned above, the choreography differs from Jerome Robbins’ original creation, but it’s still recognizably Fiddler. Arms are angled and up in the air during the intensely sung “Tradition,” Russian and Jewish styles of dance are magnificently intermixed in “To Life”, and there’s no lack of puff-chested shimmying from Lazarov during “If I Were A Rich Man.”
So what is different about the dancing? Originally created by Hofesh Schechter and restructured for the tour by Christopher Evans, this choreography’s distinctness is underscored in the group numbers. The performers form a kaleidoscope of dance, moving harmoniously as a unit while executing different poses and steps all at once. This kind of dancing feels more raw, purposefully less polished than the original’s, and hands down, it’s captivating.
Fiddler on the Roof closes December 15, 2019. Details and tickets
Another big change in this production is the inclusion of a framing device, as originally created by director Bartlett Sher for the 2015 revival and recreated here by director Sari Evans. At the top of the show, the sound of a train fills the theatre. On a bare stage, Tevye’s hat hangs on the corner of a small chair, and a train station sign hovers with the word Anatevka written in Cyrillic. Lazarov enters wearing a modern red coat and holding a thick book. It feels as though he is a present-day visitor who is somehow connected to the shtetl. After a brief moment of silently gazing around the train station, the unnamed character transforms into Tevye, slowly taking off his coat, revealing his prayer shawl, and lastly, putting on his signature cap.
Sher bookends the show by introducing this device again when the villagers of Anatevka are in the midst of leaving their home forever. Packed belongings. Heavy goodbyes. A foggy view of the road ahead. This version ends just as somberly as the original, but this time Tevye puts on the red coat and takes off his hat, transforming back into the unknown character and walking out of Anatevka alongside the rest of the villagers.
This change, though taking up only a short amount of time, struck me emotionally. I felt as though the modern man represents the vast, cyclical nature of migration—how there are always people who must leave their homes and stride toward new ones. But the beauty of this addition is how it’s not clearly defined. The meaning behind a modern man who arrives at and leaves Anatevka is thoughtfully left open to interpretation.
The national tour of the 2015 revival of Fiddler does what all great revivals do: it gives fans of the original some bright novelty to enjoy, and it gives newcomers a fabulous version of the musical. This production is revitalized by change, yet grounded in its beloved traditions.
Fiddler on the Roof by Jerry Bock, Joseph Stein, and Sheldon Harnick. Originally directed by Bartlett Sher. Direction recreated by Sari Evans. Original choreography by Hofesh Schechter. Direction recreated by: Christopher Evans. Featuring: Jessica Altchiler, Mateus Barbosa da Silva, Noa Luz Barenblat, Nicholas Berke, Carol Beaugard, Andrea Marie Bush, Nic Casaula, Cam Cote, David Scott Curtis, David Ferguson, Ruthy Froch, Kelly Glyptis, Michael Greenberg, Yochai Greenfeld, Andrew Hendrick, Yehezkel Lazarov, Bennett J. Leeds, Sam McLellan, Randa Meierhenry, Jonathan von Mering, Carlye Messman, Ali Arian Molaei, Kelly Gabrielle Murphy, Jack O’Brien, Alynn Rinah Parola, Carly Post, Gray Randolph, Emma Taylor Schwartz, Nick Siccone, Cassandra Surianello, Maite Uzal, Brooke Wetterhahn, and Scott Willits. Musical supervision: Ted Sperling. Scenic design: Michael Yeargan. Costume design: Catherine Zuber. Lighting design: Donald Holder. Sound design: Scott Lehrer. Hair and wig design: Tom Watson. Casting: Jason Styres, CSA. Production stage manager: Kelsey Clarke. Presented at the National Theatre . Reviewed by Emily Priborkin.