The Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway at 53rd St.
Tuesday - Sunday through September 4, $35 - $157
One of Broadway’s genuine treasures is back where it belongs, on the Great White Way, in a wonderful production that breathes new life into the old chestnut. Based on stories by Sholem Aleichem, the musical version of Fiddler on the Roof debuted on Broadway in September 1964, where it ran for 3,242 performances through July 1972. The show was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with a cast that included Bea Arthur, Bert Convy, Austin Pendleton, Maria Karnilova, and, of course, Zero Mostel as Tevye the milkman, an honest, hardworking husband and father who is balancing his religious beliefs and Jewish tradition with raising five daughters who are developing modern minds of their own in the small village of Anatevka in early-twentieth-century imperialist Russia. Over the years, Tevye has been portrayed as a larger-than-life figure with a special relationship with the Almighty; in addition to Mostel, the dairyman has been portrayed by Herschel Bernardi, Topol (onstage and in the Oscar-winning film), Alfred Molina, Paul Michael Glaser (who was Perchik in the movie), and even Harvey Fierstein. Taking the reins this time around is the terrific Danny Burstein, the fifty-one-year-old Mount Kisco native and five-time Tony nominee (Cabaret, Follies), who walks onto the stage from the audience, immediately announcing that Tevye is one of us, just another human being facing life’s adversities. Burstein’s scaled-down Tevye allows six-time Tony nominated director Bartlett Sher (The King and I, South Pacific with Burstein) to let Joseph Stein’s sterling book shine. The people of Anatevka are struggling to make ends meet, always fearful that the next pogrom could be waiting right around the corner. Tevye’s horse is lame, so he is pulling his cart by himself, adding to his stress and strain. Yente the matchmaker comes by to tell Tevye’s wife, Golde (Jessica Hecht), that she has chosen the much older butcher and wealthy widower Lazar Wolf (Adam Dannheisser) to marry their oldest daughter, Tzeitel (usually played by Alexandra Silber, but we saw a fine Tess Primack in her stead), who is madly in love with the poor tailor, Motel (Adam Kantor). Soon two more of Tevye and Golde’s daughters are trying to bypass the traditional arranged marriage: Hodel (Samantha Massell) falls for Bolshevik revolutionary and teacher Perchik (Ben Rappaport), while Chava (Melanie Moore) is courted by non-Jewish Russian officer Fyedka (Nick Rehberger). Through it all, Tevye looks to the heavens, continuing his ongoing conversation with God, wondering when things are going to get better.
Sher’s heartwarming version of Fiddler takes place on Michael Yeargan’s relatively spare sets, which drop down from above and roll in from the sides, facades of houses and storefronts and a local bar in brown wood palettes. Israeli-born, UK-based choreographer Hofesh Shechter adds modern-dance flourishes to Robbins’s original choreography that keep things fresh and moving. Despite Ted Sperling’s overly standard and uninventive musical orchestrations, the songs, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, hold up marvelously, boasting such rousing set pieces as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “To Life,” and “Tevye’s Dream,” the last an always delightful moment that lets the creative team sparkle and show off as Grandma Tzeitel (Lori Wilner) and Fruma-Sarah (Jessica Vosk) share their thoughts on Tzeitel’s upcoming nuptials to Lazar Wolf. “Sunrise, Sunset,” which can easily become treacly, is tender and beautiful here, and Sher and Burstein tone down “If I Were a Rich Man” into a more solemn musing than a bold demand. And we dare you not to shed a tear when Burstein and Hecht ask the deeply touching question: “Do You Love Me?” They could address the same question to the audience, which would answer back with an enthusiastic yes. Every decade has its Fiddler, which has previously been revived on Broadway in 1981, 1990, and 2004, and now the 2010s has one it can call its own. Sher, Burstein, and the rest of the cast and crew have done a fantastic job of delivering a thrilling Fiddler on the Roof that upholds tradition — while celebrating life and love in the face of dark times that are as relevant today as they were way back when.