Encore Michigan

The latest ‘Fiddler’ lives up to…tradition!

Review March 13, 2020 Angela Colombo

DETROIT, MICH.–In a little Russian town called Anatevka, tradition is both esteemed and challenged. Embodied and brought to life as a brightly clad fellow, it’s never far.

As the story of Fiddler on the Roof unfolds at the Fisher Theatre, tradition gingerly tiptoes out of the shadows at key moments to remind us of its purpose, plaintiff fiddle singing. Fiddler on the Roof is the heartwarming story of a father, a mother and their five daughters.

Themes of family, tradition and community lead the way in this classic adaptation. This Bartlett Sher-production now in its second year touring is a powerhouse of dazzling choreography and heartfelt storytelling of this familiar tale.

The original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, which opened in 1964, was the first musical in history to surpass 3000 performances. The show won the 1965 Tony for Best Musical in addition to eight other Tonys that year. This revival introduces a new generation to the iconic musical. “It was re-visioned by director Bartlett Sher to try and tie more into our understanding of what’s going on in the world right now.” David Scott Curtis who plays the rabbi.

Tevye, the affable dairyman and father played by Yehezkel Lazarov, is a jovial fellow who sees life as a both a joy and a struggle. Throughout the story he spars with his conscience about whether to break with tradition or stand firm to its tenets “Tradition! Because of tradition everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do, “ says Tevye.

Lazarov gives us a humorous and affectionate Tevye who is one minute strong and thundering then easily tapers off into a thin echo of doubt when he questions his beliefs. Determined to find good husbands for his daughters, urged by his wife Golde, played by Maite Uzal, Tevye takes the advice of the local matchmaker and agrees to betrothe his eldest, Tzeitel,
played by Kelly Gabrielle Murphy to Lazar Wolf, played by Jonathan von Mering. A good match, Tevye thinks. Wolf is wealthy and will be a good provider. But he is old and Tzeitel is unhappy with the plan. She wants to marry her long time childhood friend Motel, a poor tailor played by Nick Siccone.

Without a dowry Golde feels they can’t be picky about their daughters’ suitors. Tevye sings “If I were a rich man” with all the fervor and delight of a father and husband wanting to give his family a better life. And fantasizes for a minute that maybe someday he won’t have to toil so hard.

Tevye is challenged by each of his marriageable daughters on the tradition of arranged marriage and for the first two he is able to break with tradition. For the third it is not as easy because she chooses someone outside of the Jewish faith. Tevye asks God for guidance. His consultations with God are casual, informal conversations. They sound like he’s reaching out to an old friend. We watch his rationalization process, a comical one weighing both sides of the argument. His voice fluctuates, going from strong and seemingly certain to a whining speculation as he thinks through what the best course of action might be.

Tevye’s regard for tradition goes head to head with his realization that things evolve to suit new times and new ways of thinking. He is tormented about whether to be flexible about his daughters’ unorthodox choices. “If I try to bend that far, I’ll break,” he fears.

There are so many highlights in this production. Too many to list. The dream scene is one. Tevye conjures this dream to avoid telling Golde that Tzeitel does not want to marry the old Lazar Wolf. Tevye makes his yarn come to life recounting it for Golde when she wakes him from what she thinks is a nightmare. We see saggy bosomed ancestors with long, bony, flaccid fingers waving demonstratively. Spooky long gone relatives dance and bop as a thunderstorm booms. Leading the pack of specters is Golde’s dead grandmother who Tevye says came to tell him that Tzeitel must not marry Lazar Wolf, she must marry Motel. Tevye paints the picture richly. Golde is convinced.

The choreography is spectacular. The dancing is traditional while upping the ante in its energy level and degree of complexity. The bottle dance at the wedding celebration is electric. The audience clapped in unison and it felt like we were all at a dear friend’s wedding, celebrating the horah, the customary jewish wedding dance.

The original choreography was reimagined by acclaimed Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter. “The dancing is a little bit more appropriate ethnically to the time period and to the religious and cultural background of what’s going on but it’s still built around a framework that everyone recognises,” said actor David Scott Curtis.

In addition to a story about a family, this is a story about the perseverance of a people. The songs in this musical are traditional sounding jewish music in minor tones, which convey sadness, yearning, bitterness, a dark mood or suffering. Despite some heavy undertones, this adaptation of Fiddler will have you roaring with delight. It’s hilarious. There are lots of little rib
ticklers. Like the unexpected high five between Golde and Tevye from their separate beds as they lay their bodies down to sleep.

Julie Shiffman, a theater goer from Farmington Hills called it “a very strong production.” She has seen other productions of Fiddler including the last time it came to the Fisher and said she really enjoyed this one.

This story lifts us up as it shows us the struggles of a people who are forced to flee at a moment’s notice, a coerced ever nomadic existence underscored by a collective longing to remain in one place, a desire to grow roots. The migration scene shows the villagers as backlit silhouettes, downtrodden in their plod but not beaten. They persevere. They carry on. They know this is just another stop on their way to where they are supposed to be. And they bring tradition with them. You can catch Fiddler on the Roof at the Fisher Theatre through March 15 unless sows are cancelled due to the virus precautions.

Get tickets at www.broadwayindetroit.com or www.ticketmaster.com and by phone at 800-982-2787

Week of 10/19/2020

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