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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 28, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 22
Fiddler on the Roof creates new traditions
Arts & Entertainment
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Fiddler on the Roof creates new traditions

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Fiddler on the Roof
Paramount Theatre
Through May 30


Fiddler on the Roof is a show about tradition. From the opening number which literally proclaims it, traditions - physical and spiritual - are the very backbone of this record-setting (and record-breaking) musical. The production that opened at the Paramount Tuesday night is no exception. In some ways, the show stays perfectly aligned to the original, while in other ways it broke from those traditions and continued off in different directions.

The smash hit musical is about a Russian peasant named Tevye. He's a starving milkman, married with five daughters, living under a Tsarist regime as his entire world conflicts with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. His eldest three daughters marry whom they want to instead of relying on the traditional matchmaker. One marries her childhood love; one marries a student with "new ideas," and the third marries outside the faith, an action causing complete banishment. While his daughters' happiness seems fulfilled, Tevye's values and customs all get pushed, pulled, tested, and, in some cases, broken.

Harvey Fierstein plays the iconic Tevye. The character is a hardworking man who tries to understand his changing world with a sense of humor and private aside monologues to God. Fierstein's look and persona fit the role well, and then he breaks from tradition. While there can be many interpretations of Tevye, playing him as a teddy bear is not an approach usually taken - and here it is taken to the extreme. While the relationship between Tevye and God has its moments of levity, it is doubtful whether the character would actually stick his tongue out at God, or give backhanded gesticulations - even in jest - to the one source Tevye looks to for consolation and understanding. The character is played too cutesy and comes across less as a peasant milkman and more of (and I hate to say it) a dairy queen. Every commentary does not need to be punctuated with a facial mugging of the audience - think Fran Drescher starring in A Doll's House. But the majority of the audience responded favorably to each precious gesture and overexaggerated look. When moments of tenderness were needed for the confrontation of his daughter Chava after she marries outside the faith, Mr. Fierstein comes through, and does it well. His face shows us his conflict forcing him into an expressive painful silence. It's played emotionally and, thankfully, without adlibbing, and creates tenderness for several effective moments which allow the audience to see the full level of turmoil that has cracked Tevye's human surface. Unfortunately, we have to wait until almost the completion of the second act before this occurs.

The rest of the cast shines, giving full support to (and sometimes carrying) what should be the heavy weight of the show. The women playing the three eldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava (Kaitlin Stilwell, Jamie Davis, Deborah Grausman), all have wonderful voices. They harmonize beautifully in "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and each shines in their solo songs. The girls' suitors, Motel, Perchik, and Fyedka (Zal Owen, Colby Foytik, Matthew Marks), also help add positively strong notes to the cast. They compliment their female counterparts well and when each couple is together on stage, it is easy from an audience's point of view to see why they ended up with each other.

The original choreography was done by the great Jerome Robbins and has successfully been reproduced by director Sammy Dallas Bayes. The "Bottle Dance" is done to perfection, with all four men completely in synch. While not a huge dance show, this part of the wedding scene deserved and received its own applause from the audience.

Overall, Fiddler on the Roof does what it's supposed to do; it entertains and educates the audience. The production definitely gives a strong message about a way of life and the effects the traditions we keep and those we change have, not only on our own lives, but on those lives around us. Remember that you are essentially seeing "The Harvey Fierstein Show" and you'll have a great time. There's a reason his name is above the title. Just keep one hand on your wallet; you will be mugged from the stage.

Originally based on a series of short stories by Sholem Aleichem entitled Tevye and his Daughters, the musical received its name from The Fiddler, a painting by Marc Chagall. Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1965 and ran for over 3,200 performances, eventually setting a 10-year record for being the longest-running show on Broadway. Originally starring Zero Mostel (Tevye) and Bea Arthur (Yente) - both who won Tony Awards - the show was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won nine, including Best Musical. In 1971, it was made into a film staring Israeli actor Topol (Tevye) and Leonard Frey (Motel). The film garnered three Academy Awards.

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