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FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Receives Strong Ovation At Fox Theatre

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of CriticalBlast.com or its management.

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Fiddler on the Roof plays the Fox Theatre Jan 29 - Feb 10. Photo Credit: The Fox Theatre

Fiddler on the Roof is the sort of musical that everyone knows, or is at least aware of. My mother used to play “Sunrise, Sunset” on the family record player when I was a kid. Somehow, the rest of the music and the context for that famous song had eluded me until now. Fiddler on the Roof plays the fabulous Fox Theatre January 29 – February 10, 2019, bringing the Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick production that first bowed in 1964 back to St .Louis. For many of the show’s fans, it will be a joyous occasion. For me, it wasn’t bad, just not what I was expecting. I wasn’t even aware this was a Russian story. I’ve never watched the film version, or even perused the Wikipedia entry. I assumed it would be more along the lines of Zorba! My ignorance aside, Fiddler on the Roof is a sparsely staged but deeply moving production.

From the constant applause to the standing ovation on opening night, the Fiddler fans were out in force at the Fox and very happy with what they saw. The show’s main character is Tevye, a dairyman in village along the Pale of Settlement in 1905.  Yehezekel Lazarov, a major Israeli theatre star, does a wonderful job in the role, leaving no facet of the character unexplored. He is a man of tradition, walking just one step ahead of a steadily approaching wave of change. He clearly loves wife Golde (Maite Uzal) and his daughters Tzeitel (Mel Weyn), Hodel (Ruthy Froch), Chava (Natalie Powers), Shprintze (Danielle Allen), and Bielke (Emerson Glick), but his gruff demeanor and initial resistance to anything that breaks from tradition creates ripples of conflict in his otherwise bucolic life.

One by one, his oldest daughters approach him to seek his blessing if n ot his outright permission to marry men they love, rather than ones the village matchmaker, Yente (Carol Beaugard) picks for them. Tzeitel falls for Motel (Jesse Weil), the town’s young tailor, even though she had already been matched with the butcher, Lazar Wolf (Jonathan Von Mering). This leads to some tense moments at their wedding, but whatever hurt feelings and broken traditions hung over their heads were soon forgotten as the Constable (Jeff Brooks) and his men arrive to remind everyone that the Tsar’s reach is long, and his will shall be done. Soon, Hodel falls for an idealistic revolutionary named Perchik (Ryne Nardecchia). Despite the young man’s lack of a traditional career, Tevye likes him anyway and doesn’t put up too much of a fight. But when Chava admits to loving Fyedka (Joshua Logan Alexander), a Christian man, he cannot bring himself to look past his religion. The young couple leaves the village, and Tevye never speaks with his daughter again. The Tsar finally starts to push the Jews from their land and Tevye’s family fractures even further as Tzeitel and Motel head to Poland, Hodel is in Siberia to be near her imprisoned Perchik, and the rest of the family is headed to America. Not the happiest ending, but a thoroughly Russian one.

Lazarov’s nuanced acting was equaled by his vocal prowess. “If I Were A Rich Man” was bombastic, “Sunrise, Sunset” -- heard in context for the first time in my case -- felt simultaneously hopeful and regretful, but “Do You Love Me?” was touching and gentle. Weyn, Froch and Powers did a beautiful job performing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” Froch and Nardecchia were sweet in their rendition of “Now I Have Everything.” The large ensemble did a fine job throughout, particularly with their dance numbers.  “Do You Love Me” was easily my favorite song of the show, an honest and tender request for honesty from a woman who never had the freedom to choose her own husband sung as a simple ballad with a lot of complexity underneath it. It provides the background for Tevya and Golde’s own relationship while pulling the gruff façade of Tevya aside to reveal his own insecurities—just an all-around beautiful piece of theatre.

On the production side of the show, the stage often felt pretty empty. Most of the scenes took place between a single cottage on stage and a partial section of one just barely there. At other times smaller panels shaped like cottages were hung above the set to give the impression of distance and presumably hills. I think it would have been more immersive to have at least a painted backdrop. Poor Mr. Von Mering’s microphone had a noticeable buzz which I’m sure was fixed by the following evening’s performance. Minor quibbles for someone who waited all night for an actual fiddler to play on a rooftop--even after all these years I hadn't realized it was a metaphor!

I think my biggest issue was that the Fox Theatre booked this show right after Anastasia, which I disliked immensely. After the stress of the holidays and now in the blue doldrums of winter, I wish they would have booked at least one raucous comedy at this point in their schedule. Russian musicals seem to be generally downbeat if not outright depressing. I’m sure the thought was that Anastasia would have been light-hearted fun but I found it a tedious chore to sit through. Fiddler on the Roof earned the ovations they received all night, but it doesn’t send you home on a happy note. A short weekend run of Rock of Ages follows Fiddler, too little, too late.

For more information on Fiddler on the Roof and other upcoming Fox performances, please visit www.FabulousFox.com

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0