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Theatre Review: Fiddler on the Roof

April 17, 2012

Fiddler on the RoofThe national tour of Fiddler on the Roof carries on the legacy of a legendary piece of musical theatre history. When Fiddler opened on Broadway in 1964, it ran for a record-breaking 3,242 performances, and it has since seen countless professional productions all over the world. It may not be the flashiest or most stylistically current musical in the world, but it is an iconic and important one with universal themes that are just as relevant today as when it was written.

I think my favorite part of the show was the comedy, expertly executed by John Preece, a man who has played the lead role of Tevye literally thousands of times. His experience shows, as he is able to elicit laughs with a mere gesture placed at exactly the right moment. He plays up the comedy in his interactions with other townspeople, his comic, one-sided conversations with a sometimes befuddling God, and especially with his wife, Golde, with whom he maintains a charmingly relatable love-hate relationship.

As with the comedy, the show really hinges on Tevye for the drama; his struggles are sometimes portrayed lightly and sometimes quite seriously. The real heart of the show lies in his encountering his daughters' modern ideas and desires. Tzeitel wants to marry for love instead of being paired by the matchmaker, Hodel is romanced by a revolutionary who leads her away from home, and Chava marries outside of the Jewish faith. Tevye wrestles with the competing values of tradition and ensuring the happiness of his family, through which he shows a good deal of compassion and open-mindedness but also reveals a breaking point that he is not willing to approach: that of allowing a contradiction of their religious beliefs. This moment seems particularly relevant at a time where social change brings many tradition-oriented Americans to re-evaluate their preconceptions and beliefs to accommodate a more accepting and diverse society.

Amid the profound themes and historical importance, this production of Fiddler had some impressive production values. There are a few very impressive sequences featuring the original choreography of the legendary Jerome Robbins, including the celebratory "To Life" and "The Bottle Dance," in which dancers display remarkable precision and control in a variety of dance styles. "Tevye's Dream" is a sweeping, dramatic number that provides some welcome theatricality, including tantalizing visual effects and my favorite costume of the night: what can only be described as a giant Muppet version of Fruma-Sarah, the departed wife of the butcher Lazar Wolf.

Having been in a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof myself (playing the 60-year-old Lazar Wolf at 17...we made it work), I came into the show remembering many of the classic songs, and I left humming them once again. The fun, upbeat "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "Miracle of Miracles," and "If I Were a Rich Man" contrast with the more serious "Sabbath Prayer," "Anatevka," and "Far From the Home I Love" in a score that is varied and surprisingly catchy. Tevye has a heartbreakingly touching moment in the poetic "Chaveleh (Little Bird)" sequence, and relationships are articulated in "Now I Have Everything" and "Do You Love Me?," during which Tevye and Golde break their usually critical rapport and admit the importance of love in a family.

Overall, Fiddler on the Roof is a must-see for Broadway fanatics because it is such an influential part of musical theatre history. It is a cultural landmark, a window into an important period of history that we must remember and learn from, and an enduring reminder of the challenging yet rewarding nature of social change. It's no wonder that Fiddler has become such a cherished theatrical "tradition."

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