‘Fiddler’ as relevant today as ever if you know where to look
DETROIT, MI–Sure. You can write-off Fiddler On The Roof as a moldy oldie. Or, if you are over 60, and grew up with the show, as a staple of your Broadway experience over the decades. Perhaps going all the way back to its premiere in the 1964. Fun fact: The show had its pre-Broadway run at The Fisher Theatre in 1963.
But the truth is that Fiddler is incredibly relevant and current today, and the production, making a stop in Detroit at The Fisher Theatre as part of the Broadway in Detroit season, is a delight and a showcase of some of the best writing to ever hit Broadway musicals.
Fiddler–written by Jerry Brock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein–is set in The Pale of Imperial Russia around 1905, and based on the book Tevye and his Daughters and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, a milkman in the village of Anatevka, in the region that today is Ukraine, who attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside social and political influences effect the thinking of the young people who are not a committed to the old traditions as their parents and grandparents. He must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters who wish to marry for love rather than leaving it to the village matchmaker to find them a husband.
One of the wonderful things about Fiddler is the way it opens so strong with arguably the strongest songs in the show: “Tradition,” “Matchmaker Matchmaker,” “If I Were A Rich Man.” Jonathan Hashmonay as Tevye not only has a terrific singing voice, but the right mix of beleaguered comic timing and resoluteness about his Jewish traditions to make for a first-rate Tevye.
The two predominant themes in Fiddler–religious and political persecution and the clash between generations about social norms couldn’t be more timely. While the Jews were driven out of their Ukraine settlements 120 years ago by Russians, could the timing of a Fiddler revival be more timely as Vladamir Putin’s autocratically run Russian has waged war against independent Ukraine for the sake of trying to grab land that it lost after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Fiddler is real history, and those who do not pay attention and learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Oh, how grand it would be to have a production open in Moscow right about now.
Likewise, when Tevya is at odds and upset with his daughter Chava for marrying a non-Jew, and declares her dead to him, can we not easily substitute Chava declaring her love for another woman and an evangelical or otherwise conservative father doing the same? Children, as they age, often and normally reject the traditions and politics of their parents. While conservative parents and politicians today argue about certain books in their local libraries, civil rights for LGBTQ and bristle over non-gendered people, most of their kids are taking it all in stride as part of the new world they live in.
The cast of this touring show is first-rate with literally not a weak link. Maite Uzal as Tevye’s wife Golde, Randa Meierhenry as daughter Tzeitel, Graceann Kontak as daughter Hodel, Yarden Barr as Chava are all strong players who embody the story. The suitors: Daniel Kushner as Motel the Tailor; Austin J. Gresham as student Perchik; Carson Robinette as Fyedka are all strong.
The set, by Michael Yeargan, is simple–a modest village house, with various moving trees and haybales. But the production also includes an over-the-top depiction of Tevye’s dream when Golde’s grandmother is believed to have come back from the dead to endorse the marriage of Tzeitel to Motel instead of the much older and unattractive Lazar Wolf who the matchmaker has sorted out for Tevye’s oldest daughter. Grandma Tseitel is flanked by cast members wearing masks and elongated rubbery fingers whike they taunt Tevye and Golde to the delight of Tevye who has already told his daughter (without consulting Golde) that she may marry for love instead of money.
Fiddler‘s original Broadway production in 1964 was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical, score, and book, and Robbins won for best direction and choreography.
The orchestra is ably conducted by Jonathan Mario. The show is directed by Sari Ketter, recreating direction by Bartlett Sher. Costumes by Catherine Zuber. Lighting by Donald Holder. Choreography Christoper Evans, recreating original choreography by Hofesh Shechter.