BWW Review: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Rochester Broadway Theatre League
Fiddler on the Roof is one of the most iconic and memorable shows in the musical theatre cannon, having originated on Broadway over 50 years ago and seen scores of revivals, and a feature length film, in the intervening years. The production currently playing at Rochester's Auditorium Theatre until December 16th is a rich and powerful experience, unlike any production of Fiddler you've ever seen before.
Fiddler on the Roof (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein) is the 1964 musical set in the tiny Russian village of Anatevka right after the turn of the twentieth century, when rampant anti-Semitism was beginning to engulf parts of Europe. At the heart of the story is Tevye (Danny Arnold), a simple Jewish milkman and father of five daughters who's struggling to maintain the Jewish traditions of his family and community in the midst of shifting cultural norms around things like courtship, marriage, and faith. In particular, Tevye must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters who wish to marry for love, rather than succumb to the generations-old tradition of matchmaking that was common among Jewish families at the time. Tzeitel (Mel Weyn) bucks her father's wishes for her to marry the local butcher (Jonathan Von Mering) in favor of a poor tailor (Jesse Weil); Hodel (Ruthy Froch) infuriates her father by falling for a scholar and Bolshevik revolutionary (Ryne Nardecchia); and Chava (Natalie Powers) commits the gravest sin of all by marrying outside the faith.
Tevye may be the character most commonly associated with Fiddler, but it's the many women in Tevye's life who make this production so moving and such a joy. In addition to his three daughters, his wife Golde (Maite Uzal) and Yente (Carol Beaugard), the village matchmaker, are exceptional, each with their own brand of quick wit and sharp tongue that illustrate how women helped shape households and communities during a time that-on its face-is intensely patriarchal (as Tevye never lets us forget-"I'm the head of this house!" Ok Tevye, sure you are).
Much has already been written about the choreography of this production (see Katherine Varga's excellent writeup in Sunday's Democrat & Chronicle), but it is by-far the most stunning component of a show that has MANY stunning components. The choreography was reimagined by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Schecter, and it's a far cry from the one-two-turn-kick style chorus line dancing that was common on Broadway during the era of Fiddler's origin. It's organic and expressive and lyrical, paying homage to the traditional Jewish dances often performed at weddings and pubs. In particular, the bottle dance (search it on YouTube) had the audience captivated and transfixed on the night I was in attendance.
Director Bartlett Sher makes the bold choice of dressing Tevye in modern-day clothing in the show's opening and closing scenes, a statement that Fiddler's central issues-primarily how we respond to shifting cultural norms, and how we treat refugees-are not bygone problems of years past, but are as ever-present today as they were in 1905. It's a sobering reminder of why Fiddler on the Roof is a show that everyone from all walks of life should experience, and it is a brilliant directorial choice by Sher.
This production of Fiddler has found the perfect pace, one that gives enormous credence and breathing room for the many Jewish dances, customs, and expressions of tradition that make the show iconic and important. While so many touring Broadway shows move at breakneck speed and churn through dialogue and scene changes like they're going out of style, this production does the audience an enormous service by really letting us sit in the moment and experience a Sabbath prayer, and drink in the steady rhythm of "sunrise, sunset."
Ultimately, using adjectives like "moving" or "exhilarating" or "soaring" to describe this production of Fiddler is somehow still wildly inadequate. Simply, productions like this are WHY theatre is a powerful, necessary art form. Theatre can entertain and inspire, which are perfectly fine reasons to attend a show, but theatre can also educate and enrich and feed the soul. Theatre can connect us to our past and let us walk through the lives of people that live far away, perhaps a long time ago, who were raised in a different faith, or who don't look and talk like us. The production of Fiddler on the Roof currently playing at Rochester's Auditorium Theatre entertains and inspires, but also gives a voice to the marginalized, challenging the audience to open their hearts and to never cast aside or belittle their neighbors. It teaches that there is room for both tradition and progress, and that many of us are just trying to find a livable balance between the two. It is truly an unforgettable experience.
For tickets to Fiddler on the Roof and more info, click here.