The first time I saw the classic musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” was in 1967, when I was a young theatre student. Since then, I have seen it multiple times, both professional and non-professional productions, and obviously, never tire of it. On Tuesday, I saw the national touring company production of the 2014 Broadway revival, playing at Murat Theatre at Old National Centre until Oct. 6. I am pleased to report that of all the productions I’ve seen previously, this one was the most compelling and certainly, the most affecting.
“Fiddler,” which premiered in 1964, is a creation of Tony Award-nominee Joseph Stein and Pulitzer Prize-winners Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. The current touring “Fiddler” was directed by Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher, choreographed by the acclaimed Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter, inspired by the original choreography of Jerome Robbins, and has musical direction by Ted Sperling. “Fiddler” is set in a fictional Russian settlement in 1905. Filled with pathos, it’s a timeless tale about a poor Jewish milkman, his wife and five daughters with universal themes of familial and romantic love, tolerance, persecution, tradition and survival. It’s a story that is totally relatable to anyone.
Comparisons to other productions I have seen are unavoidable, but suffice to say, what makes this re-visitation of the original is its starkness and raw quality as reflected in the minimal sets, costumes with muted colors and lighting, which reflects the story’s dark undertones.
Leading the superb cast is Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov, who plays Tevye, a likable, hard-working, pious man, who is a strong patriarch but gentle father, who sees the positive side of life, but when pushed, shows stubbornness and rage. At 45, Lazarov is considerably younger than others who’ve played the role, but gives his portrayal a vigor that makes it stand out. From the onset, with his rendition of “If I Were a Rich Man,” Lazarov warmly connected with the audience.
Playing opposite Lazarov was Maite Uzal, who effectively depicted his no-nonsense and rigid wife Golde. Contrasting with Lazarov’s easy-going Tevye, Uzal’s Golde was stern and iron-willed.
Also setting this NETworks presentation apart was Shechter’s choreography, replete with Jewish and Russian folk dance references and the marvelous architecture of his movement, especially in production numbers that included in “To Life,” and “Wedding Dance.”
Speaking of production numbers, making sure not to provide any spoilers, I will only say that “Tevye’s Dream” is unlike any I have ever seen previously. Let’s just say that in this version, it’s less a dream and more a disturbing nightmare.
Led by conductor Michael Gildin on keyboards, the ten-piece orchestra exceled at interpreting Bock’s iconic score, which includes songs such as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” all of which are known all over the world.
When I said previously that this production was the most affecting I have seen, it’s because it holds such relevancy to what is happening in our world today. With the rise of antisemitism, racism and the plight of Central American and Syrian refugees forced to flee their homelands, “Fiddler” couldn’t be timelier. At the same time, with the fiddler on the roof serving as a metaphor for balance between tradition and allowing young people to grow, the work offers hope that the world may yet become more tolerant and accepting of others and less tribal as a result.
“Fiddler on the Roof” tickets are available in person at Old National Centre ticket office, online at ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.