by Rebecca Rudnyk
Fiddler on the Roof is a musical about tradition. Family. Culture. Oppression. Love. It’s about finding personal strength and making tough choices. Holding on and letting go. It is one of the most known pieces of modern art that pays homage and reverence to Jewish culture, both as a religious faith and a way of life. And it does so through the eyes and narration of one of the most endearing and generally likeable characters in theatre lore.
Its first Broadway run in 1964 garnered 9 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and broke the then-current record for most performances in show history. Thanks to the film and countless subsequent local and regional productions, as well as multiple Broadway revivals, it is well known in some form or fashion by almost everyone familiar with the medium of musical theatre. Making its impact on generation after generation through its memorable songs and powerful themes.
One of the things I value and appreciate most in theatre, as is the case with any piece of art, is that it allows us to step into a period of time and experience the world through a historical lens. To reflect on where we are now and where we were then, and consider how much has changed. And, in some cases, how much hasn’t. How far we’ve come. And how far we haven’t.
Tragically, nearly 60 years after its inception, this show addresses many of the most prominent open wounds of our time. Social progress, and female empowerment in the face of oppression. Anti-semitism and racial biases. Displacement. Poverty. Political and cultural divides. And the underlying reminder that our most profound motivations are shaped by our desire to bring happiness to those we love, even if it means disrupting that which we hold most sacred.
This production is wildly entertaining, without being overbearing or overworked. A minimalist set, focused on function over form. Costumes that are stunningly beautiful, because they are purely illustrative of the time. And stunning choreography comprised almost exclusively of traditional folk dance, in reverence to the cultures being depicted.
The cast had some heavy-hitters, including Kelly Gabrielle Murphy as Tzeitel and Nic Casaula as Perchik. Yet Yehezkel Lazarov (Tevye) shone so brightly that it forced all other players into the periphery. Not intentionally. Lazarov was not trying to steal the show. He just naturally did. With impeccable comedic timing and perfectly-attuned vocal inflection, he made Tevye the most complex and endearing Tevye I have ever experienced. Choosing not to rely on physical gyrations or over-exaggerations to illicit laughs or sympathy, he instead fully embodied the character. Wholeheartedly and honestly. A man who is hard-working and sentimental. Loving, yet bound by the constraints of his culture and upbringing. A man who follows his heart, always trying to do what’s best for his family, even when doing so presents him with profound challenges.
Fiddler on the Roof is a classic. A musical of a specific time and place. A culture and its traditions. The human experience. And this production, directed by the Tony Award winning Barlett Sher, pays due homage to the compelling and endearing story depicted.
This tour of Fiddler on the Roof is playing at ASU Gammage until February 2. It then moves on to Fort Wayne, Indiana, Lexington, Kentucky, and Providence, Rhode Island. It continues the tour throughout the US and Canada, with performances scheduled through May of 2020. Tickets can be purchased online.