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Review: An Exuberant FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the National Theatre

Review: An Exuberant FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the National Theatre

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, Washingtonians have been granted a holiday gift from the theatrical gods. It does not matter if you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or just need an escape from holiday madness; Fiddler on the Roof at The National Theatre is a life-affirming joy not to be missed.

What has endeared Fiddler to many, making it not only a staple of Broadway, but one of the theatre's most beloved shows, is that the creators have seamlessly integrated all the storytelling elements. The timeless tale of Tevye the milkman in czarist Russia is vividly told through Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's exuberant music and emotional lyrics, and Joseph Stein's sweeping book.

Fiddler has an ability to speak to the past, present and future like few musicals do, or could even dream of doing. The conflict of trying to adhere to tradition against the winds of change is brilliantly captured in the aptly named opening number "Tradition."

In it Tevye, an excellent and lovable Yehezkel Lazarov, proclaims, "Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do." Therein lies the conflict, as he is forced to deal with the changing times from his daughters growing up to the Russian pogroms and anti-Semitic action committed against his family and town, Anatevka.

Separating this Fiddler from the one enjoyed by your grandparents and parents is both a fresh approach by Director Bartlett Sher and new choreography by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter. Sher has proven himself a grand interpreter of the classic American musical with his revivals of South Pacific and The King and I. He excels at presenting Broadway's golden age musicals in grand, sweeping, cinematic fashions. His Fiddler is no exception.

Sher also takes gambles. With this Fiddler, there is a slight change to the opening, with a modern-day Tevye, clad in an orange jacket, seeming to look back on the events of Fiddler on the Roof a century ago. The result only strengthens the integrity and meaning of the musical's story, while also providing renewed relevance for a new generation of theatergoers.

Gone also is a production using a carbon-copy of the legendary Jerome Robbins choreography. Instead, Shechter has chosen to give the show a more athletic, less polished, still entirely enjoyable approach. Don't worry, there is plenty of foot stomping.

Nevertheless, the soul and artfulness that comes to define numbers like, "To Life" and the smashing Act One finale "The Wedding" still take your breath away. Additionally, Shechter has retained several of Robbins signature moves, elements of which can been seen throughout the production, most notably "If I Were A Rich Man."

Lazarov certainly has his work cut out for him, taking over a role memorably played by Zero Mostel onstage and Topol on both stage and screen. He most certainly rises to the occasion channeling the inherent, mischievous humor of Harnick's lyrics and Stein's book. But underneath that smile is a soul of steel, one he'll need to face a changing Russia.

As his wife Golde, Maite Uzal is commanding on the outside, but inside has a mother's concern and a spouse's unconditional love. With her daughters she is strong and warm, protective and yet eager to see that they have a better life. Particularly in the ever-poignant, and always present at every wedding, "Sunrise, Sunset" we see her longing for simpler times combined with the happiness of young love.

Helping to usher in the winds of change is Ruthy Froch as Hodel, their daughter. Froch may be understated at first, but as the show evolves so does her character into one of strength, wit, and passion. It is her love affair with Perchik the revolutionary, played by a somewhat subdued Nic Casaula, where we start to see what a changing world will mean for Tevye, Golde, and their five daughters.

Kelly Gabrielle Murphy gives a lovely performance as the oldest daughter, Tzeitel. Together she and Nick Siccone, portraying her love-interest Motel, are gleefully joyful with their rendition of "Miracle of Miracles."

What has served Fiddler so well is its extraordinary stable of colorful supporting characters. From Carol Beaugard's scene-stealing wit as Yente the matchmaker to Jonathan Von Mering's gruff Lazar Wolf the butcher, they help imbue the sense of tradition so proudly adhered to by Tevye.

The credit for that goes to Stein's book. Character's like these are what gives Fiddler its sense of community, making the musical's ending all the more powerful and one that will be with you long after leaving The National Theatre.

Costume Designer Catherine Zuber has dressed the characters in period costumes. Filled with browns, oranges, and tans, the colors help symbolize the rather humble nature of the characters. Michael Yeargan's set helps to accentuate that, while also paying homage to Anatekva's remote locale through various floating set pieces. His most effective moment, and fittingly so, is the musical's conclusion.

Bringing Bock and Harnick's score to vivid life is orchestrator Ted Sperling, a frequent Sher collaborator. Donald Holder's moody lighting is incredibly effective at conveying just what we and the characters are feeling. His design has an appropriate coolness to it that also serves to foreshadow what's to come.

Fiddler on the Roof holds a special place in people's hearts because it's timeless. The story of one man holding onto tradition while struggling to face the winds of change is basically the story of our lives. Nevertheless, the musical is also about our ability to change in the face of adversity and to grow. This time of year, what better message is there?

This holiday season; skip the presents under the tree. All I want is tickets to Fiddler on the Roof at The National Theatre.

Runtime: Three hours with one intermission.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through December 15th at The National Theatre - 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets please call (202) 628-6161 or click here.

Photo: Yehezkel Lazarov. Credit: Joan Marcus.

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