Mr. Burstein unleashes his rich baritone with roof-raising force when Tevye's emotion is at its height, bringing home the character's indomitable will, often hidden beneath his self-deprecating humor and sorely tried by his rebellious daughters. Mr. Burstein's way with a classic Jewish joke is assured but unforced, his performance affecting but not overscaled, in keeping with the production's emphasis on the musical's emotional underpinnings, rather than the frosting of shticky comedy.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Broadway Reviews
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A great Tevye, and Burstein is nothing short of a miracle, finding the modern mensch in Tevye, as well as the hard-nosed, belief-bound peasant. Rather than bluster or roar his way through the role, Burstein has a delicate, almost motherly touch, kibbitzing with God for laughs and tearing out our hearts by the end. No other actor could juggle the comedy and tragedy masks with such style, such a bittersweet dance with tradition.
This "Fiddler," helmed by the protective Bartlett Sher ("The King and I"), is bookended by scenes featuring a man we can interpret to be a present-day descendant of the tradition-cherishing milkman, famously "blessed" with five daughters. This new "Fiddler," gorgeous and affecting, is a respectful staging of the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick classic, with modernities here and there to keep us on our toes.
Bartlett Sher, the director behind the acclaimed Lincoln Center revivals of "South Pacific" and "The King and I," respects the material while enlivening it. The scenes are staged with acute sensitivity, while a full orchestra plays the timeless score. The opening sequence is somewhat new. Danny Burstein, dressed in modern attire, is apparently looking to retrace his ancestry. As he recites Tevye's opening lines ("A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no?"), the shtetl community, like a ghost being summoned back, comes forward and breaks into "Tradition." The fiddler also flies, a la Peter Pan.
Miracle of miracles, indeed: Just when you think you know a classic musical backwards and forwards, along comes director Bartlett Sher to prove otherwise. Just as with his seminal 2008 staging of "South Pacific" (and his less successful, but still laudable version of "The King and I" from earlier this year), Sher's take on "Fiddler on the Roof" feels at once bracingly modern and gloriously old school.
Burstein's performance admittedly is more measured than the familiar and still appealing Topol model of burly physicality and bear-like masculinity. (I can't compare with the original Tevye, Zero Mostel.) But Burstein does larger-than-life by subtler means, which is nowhere more evident than in his full command of the character in "If I Were a Rich Man." The faintest trace of the Borscht Belt in his humor and his wryly self-dramatizing dialogues with God also provides a further bridge in the director's vision of the story as one that still has relevance to contemporary American life.
But the company struck me as hellbent on selling a Broadway show that needs no salesmanship. Burstein is the key examplar of this. A treasure, he was terrific in Sher's ravishing productions of South Pacific and Golden Boy for Lincoln Center Theatre... But his Tevye is too nebbishy, too ingratiating to charm us into becoming his allies as he struggled to deal with the cruel forces of change from the outside world and within his own family. He's too nice.
In perfect sync with that balancing act is Danny Burstein's portrayal of Tevye, the philosopher milkman first defined by the fabulously eccentric Zero Mostel and reconsidered in countless variations. Burstein, heretofore a star only to New York theater lovers, embodies a gentle, sweet yet powerful, profoundly likable man whose debates with God have the bemused inevitability of truth. Burstein also sings the role better than any Tevye in my experience.
Tevye is a mensch. In director Bartlett Sher's thoughtful but uneven revival of the enduring, endearing musical "Fiddler on the Roof," Danny Burstein - a longtime Broadway veteran stepping at last into a starring role as comfortably as a favorite slipper - brings charm, decency and depth of feeling to the role of a Jewish dairyman living in a shtetl in pre-Revolution Russia with his wife, Golde, and their five daughters. Some may take exception to some of Sher's tinkering with the template of the beloved title, but few will find fault in Burstein's gentle, lovable man of faith, family and community. What's not to like? The personal intimacy of Tevye's casual conversations with God, not to mention the easy rapport Burstein has with the audience, only intensifies the humor and humanity of the classic material, and should prove an attractive draw for both first-timers and returning fans of the show.
Zero Mostel, the first Tevye, was indisputably magnetic but often a self-indulgent clown. At least one Fiddler collector preferred his successor, Luther Adler, who restored revelatory degrees of dignity and solemnity. Danny Burstein, the newest heir to the hero's milk cart and paternal woes, is agreeable, self-effacing and, alas, somewhat dull. Call him smaller than life. He enjoys sensitive support, however, from Jessica Hecht as his long-suffering wife, Alix Korey as the town matchmaker and, perhaps best, Adam Dannheisser as Lazar Wolf, the would-be amorous butcher. The nostalgic crowd at the preview on Thursday appeared to love everything.
Fiddler continues Sher's streak with revivals of musical classics. (His original musicals, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and The Bridges of Madison County, were beset by numerous problems--including the directorial concepts.) Here, he has decided to start from a new canvas, wiping away memories of Robbins; but he has simultaneously shown respect to the material. (Sher was raised a Catholic, although at fifteen he learned that his father was Jewish.)
By the finale, the production settles into the routine of rejection - of a daughter who weds outside the faith, of an entire community cast out for that very faith. (In czarist Russia, it seems, goys will be goys.) And audiences will feel the customary tug of sentiment, caught up in the sweep of this family, this village and this culture. As Tevye might ask, Do you love me? How can anyone resist?
There are moments of great levity in this production - songs about matchmakers and raising your glass for a toast, among all the classics the show is known for - but its quieter moments were even greater standouts. There's a Sabbath prayer dotted with candle lights in Tevye's home and the houses beyond, the haunting "Sunrise, Sunset" during a wedding scene, and wrenching goodbyes between father and daughters. And everything culminates in an end that harkens back to the show's beginning, when you'll see that red coat again, a reminder that people are still forced to leave behind the homes they love. B+
Performances are very good, as is the lively dancing choreographed by Hofesh Schechter that taps tradition and some contemporary moves. But the curious scenery often gets in the show's way. It makes for a distracting, busy and slow-pokey production of a tightknit musical. As always, it ends on a strong note. Tevye's acknowledgment, "God be with you," to the disavowed Chava will change the shape of her life, her fathers' and everyone's. You'd have to be made of granite not to be moved to happiness and tears.