BWW Review: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Cadillac Palace Theatre
In his Tony-nominated revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, now playing on tour at Broadway in Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre, director Bartlett Sher delivers a fresh and strikingly relevant vision of this 1960s classic. While Sher carefully honors the cultural and historical setting, a rural Jewish community in early twentieth century Russia, this production achieves a timelessness that speaks to the plights of marginalized people throughout history.
When we first meet Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov), the droll dairy farmer, he appears dwarfed by set designer Michael Yeargan's stark backdrop of a grey brick wall. Though Donald Holder often lights it with soothing, cool tones, the wall's constant presence hints at the long history of Jewish oppression. During Tevye's opening soliloquy, the only indicator of place is a sign that reads "Anatevka," the village where, as Tevye puts it, "you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck."
Despite the daily struggle of poverty, simple joys abound in this devout, close-knit community where Tevye raises his five daughters. Choreographer Hofesh Shechter's vibrant work, based on Jerome Robbins' original staging, highlights the deep-rooted traditions (pun intended) that bind this community together, from the celebratory pub number, "To Life," to the wedding scene with its crowd-pleasing bottle dance. In a refreshingly sincere depiction of religious life, we see the entire town observing the Sabbath in their family homes during the touching "Sabbath Prayer." And Tevye's witty, ongoing dialogue with God, in addition to adding comedic value, establishes the framework of devotion on which he has built his entire life-an important backstory to understanding key plot conflicts.
Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov is everything one could want in a Tevye-funny, charming, and moving. He is well matched with Maite Uzal as Golde, Tevye's no-nonsense, sarcastic, yet loving wife. Together, they watch their home life unravel as their three eldest daughters fall in love with men who challenge their cultural and religious values. Personally, I've always wished that FIDDLER would allow more space for these three young women as individuals. Despite a fine effort from Mel Weyn (Tzeitel), Ruthy Froch (Hodel), and Natalie Powers (Chava), these characters feel rather two-dimensional, with their rushed love stories serving primarily as plot points in Tevye's character development.
But, after all, Tevye is the protagonist, and his journey is well worth the telling. In addition to the family drama at home, Tevye and his Jewish community face increasing levels of persecution in Imperial Russia, culminating in eviction from their village. As his family and friends emigrate to far-flung places, from Warsaw to Chicago, the foreshadowing of a long, dark twentieth century is ominously clear. And it begs the question: where have we landed on the other side? This microcosmic tale of one small Jewish community should make us pause to consider our current state of affairs, with news of hate crimes, desperate refugees, and heated immigration debates regularly making headlines.
Despite the heavy subject matter, this production retains the life affirming elements that have made FIDDLER ON THE ROOF an enduring favorite: lively dancing, clever dialogue, and tender family scenes. And if these are tempered by sorrowful moments, so is life itself "laden with happiness and tears."
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF runs through January 6 at Broadway in Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago IL 60601. Tickets are available at 800-775-2000 or www.broadwayinchicago.com.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Review by Emily McClanathan