Fiddler on the Roof


If ever someone were perfectly cast it's Danny Burstein as Fiddler on the Roof's leading man, Tevye. Unfortunately, not everyone else in this Bartlett Sher-directed revival is as perfectly cast, which makes this an underwhelming revival of the Sheldon HarnickJerry BockJoseph Stein musical.

Fiddler on the Roof looks in on Tevye the milkman, a Jewish man of modest means living in Anatevka during the pogroms. He and his wife, Golde (Jessica Hecht), have been "blessed" with five daughters. Anatevka, like many Jewish villages and enclaves (then and now) is a place filled with tradition, as is so richly described in one of the great opening numbers in musical theatre. ("Tradition" will make me cry every time; this was no exception. And that it starts with that beautiful violin theme, played by The Fiddler (Jesse Kovarsky) is a blessing on your house.)

Traditions can be great though, on the one hand, even Tevye's now old traditions broke some earlier traditions when they began. There will always be trailblazers, like Tevye's daughters, who test Tevye's patience with their marital plans. The tradition, of course, is to have Yente the matchmaker identify the match, and then the papas agree to and confirm the match. Tradition! Tzeitel (Alexandra Silber), the oldest, breaks the match Tevye made for her with the butcher Lazar Wolf (Adam Dannheisser), and marries Motel the tailor (Adam Kantor). Hodel (Samantha Massell) wants to marry the revolutionary student, Perchik (Ben Rappaport), and Chava (Melanie Moore) brings the greatest shonda to the village by falling in love with a gentile, Fyedka (Nick Rehberger). So maybe we break some traditions?

But on the other hand, traditions are what keep us a community and help us keep our humanity when, say, the pogrom reaches your village and you're forced to leave the shtetl. Sometimes, there is no other hand.

There is a great tradition on Broadway of reviving shows, re-imagining yesterday's masterpieces and illuminating them for new audiences. (Recent examples include Hair, Pippin, and The King and I.) What a shame, then, that Sher (Bridges of Madison County, The King and I) and the casting team flubbed this one.

For some perplexing reason, a framing device is used to open and conclude the show. It adds nothing that isn't already apparent, and, in fact, the anachronism will take you out of emotional moments, making the point of those tableaux less powerful.

Moreover, hardly any of the other actors match Burstein's vocal prowess. (On the other hand, I like that Burstein's Tevye was slightly more reserved than the bombastic Tevye of Zero Mostel.) I like many of the other actors and have thrilled over their work elsewhere. Jessica Hecht was glorious in Stage Kiss; Adam Kantor put me through it in The Last Five Years; Alexandra Silber was captivating in Arlington. But they all seem slightly out of place during the songs. (I'm thinking, for example, of Kantor's sweet but much too subdued "Miracle of Miracles.") Their acting is reliable (though Hecht has an accent when no one else does, an odd acting choice) but their singing just doesn't rise to the occasion. (Among the featured players, Adam Dannheisser stood out as Lazar Wolf. He and Burstein (Cabaret) are raucous and well-matched in "To Life.")

Yet even if the voices left something to be desired, the choreography did not. Hofesh Shechter, once a member of the famed Batsheva Dance Company, recreated (or did a variation on a theme of) Jerome Robbins's original, utterly memorable choreography. One of the Robbins trademarks that I find particularly thrilling is they way you can see the music through his movements, like the body is doing whatever the music is telling it to do. Shechter captures that spirit in the way he has his Fiddler cast move, and creates some welcome extended dance breaks. (Like the bottles-on-the-head sequence in the wedding scene.)

The bottom line with this revival (the fifth Fiddler revival, by the way) is that if you like the show you'll like the show. If you thrill over a great performance, you'll go gaga for Danny Burstein. And if you've never seen Fiddler (or have never seen a professional, Broadway production), this is a good one with which to start. Is this a can't miss, compelling revival? No, but Danny Burstein's great, right? Of course right.

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