The Latest Â"FiddlerÂ" Tour: Dance: 10, Looks: 8, Script: 10, Sounds: Far From the Show I Love
The latest non-Equity tour of one of the crown jewels of the American musical theater, "Fiddler On The Roof," pulled its bus and truck into the equally landmark Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University this week for a one-week Chicago stay, giving its mostly young and talented cast a chance to do some holiday shopping and, perhaps, sleep late. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's score, Joseph Stein's book and the original choreography of Jerome Robbins all made the trip, courtesy of the director/choreographer Sammy Dallas Bayes and assistant Ken Daigle, both of whom have years of experience with this show. Most of these elements are meticulously recreated here.
As someone who has appeared in three productions of the show myself (and was assistant musical director on two of those), I can tell you that the folks behind the scenes of this tour do indeed know what they are doing. Steve Gilliam's smallish scene design owes much to Marc Chagall and Boris Aronson, as it should. Onstage musicians are integrated into the action, which doesn't always happen with this show. And, at least for the Chicago stop of this production, the eight musicians in the orchestra pit have been augmented to twelve, which is unfortunately a far cry from the 1964 original orchestra, which was twice that large, at least.
And that gets to the heart of what's right and wrong with this production. The gut-wrenching story of the upheaval of the lives of Ukranian Jews 100 years ago, and their economic struggles to boot, is told in terms of the gradual unraveling of courtship and marriage traditions that happens in the family of dairyman Tevye, his shrewish but well-meaning wife, Golde, and their five daughters. God is talked to, fantastic dancing takes place (YOU try it, sometime….), the ghostly Fruma-Sarah rides on top of a guy's shoulders under a crazy dream-scene costume, and, at the end, some moments of father-daughter struggle are truly hard to watch in their tragic intensity. This man is struggling to make sense of what's going on with his family and his community. And even though today's audiences are not as directly involved in or as knowledgeable about this sad part of history as Broadway audiences were in the 1960s, this production gets a lot of it very right.
And yet, many of the beloved and effective songs in this production are dispatched at such a quick tempo that I thought for a while on Wednesday evening that Music Director and Conductor David Andrew Rogers was insane. Then, I realized that he must be under strict orders to not go into overtime for the four union-contracted instumentalists in the orchestra pit. On Wednesday, the show ended two hours and fifty-five minutes after its announced starting time, less than five minutes to spare. Thank goodness they didn't perform the rarely-heard number, "The Rumor!" But really, "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "Sabbath Prayer" and "Sunrise, Sunset" were simply much too fast. Nobody, least of all the audience, could breathe.
In the role of Tevye, John Preece, formerly of Baltimore and now residing in Springfield,Illinois, looks like Topol and sounds and acts much like Zero Mostel (two of his better-known predecessors in this iconic role). He is given star treatment here, befitting his biography's assertion that he has played the role over 1,780 times (with another 1, 620 or so other performances of the show in other roles). That's a staggering number of performances, many of them on his ten national tours. And yet, he isn't a union member? That seems odd, to say the least. As Lazar Wolf, David B. Springstead, Sr., also has years of experience with this show, and it shows, in a good way. And as Golde, Pamela B. Chabora has the right approach and a feisty demeanor for this tricky role. She, however, didn't display much in the singing department.