‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations, for menorahs and Christmas trees (and maybe even a Festivus pole or two), for family gatherings and toasts and traditions being passed from one generation to another.
So it’s a fitting time of year for the opening of the new revival of Fiddler on the Roof, a faithful and spirited adaptation of the classic musical now playing at the Broadway Theatre.
The production opens in decidedly untraditional fashion: A man (Danny Burstein) walks onto the empty stage, his head uncovered, wearing a modern-day red coat and carrying a book. As he speaks the show’s opening words, he puts on a cap, removes the jacket and becomes Tevye, the dairyman from the Russian-Jewish village of Anatevka.
Directed by Bartlett Sher (who also helmed the recent, well-received revivals of South Pacific and The King and I), Fiddler is laid out simply, but that simplicity highlights the story’s poignancy — and its continued relevance. The world is still changing, just as it was for Tevye and his wife and five daughters, as old traditions are challenged and people across the globe still find themselves persecuted over their beliefs.
Burstein’s Tevye is knowing and funny, often breaking the fourth wall to speak to the audience or confer with God. The five-time Tony nominee (most recently for last seaon’s revival of Cabaret) sails through the uplifting moments and memorable songs of the show with a glint in his eyes (his “If I Were a Rich Man” brings a gleeful smile to his face, and also will to yours), and deftly handles the darker second act with a soulful, painstaking touch.
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He’s supported by a strong ensemble including Jessica Hecht as Tevye’s take-no-nonsense wife, Golde, their five daughters — Samantha Massell is a particular standout as the second-eldest, Hodel — and a group of supporting players including suitors, villagers, one busybody Yente, and, in a memorable dream sequence, ghosts of Jewish families past.
Michael Yeargan’s scenic design uses backdrops suspended above the stage that resemble illustrations from a book, with skyscapes displayed on what look like pieces of parchment. The choreography, from Hofesh Shechter, inspired by the original choreography of Jerome Robbins, is lively (just like the costumes from Catherine Zuber) yet also very traditional.
There are moments of great levity in this production — songs about matchmakers and raising your glass for a toast, among all the classics the show is known for — but its quieter moments were even greater standouts. There’s a Sabbath prayer dotted with candle lights in Tevye’s home and the houses beyond, the haunting “Sunrise, Sunset” during a wedding scene, and wrenching goodbyes between father and daughters. And everything culminates in an end that harkens back to the show’s beginning, when you’ll see that red coat again, a reminder that people are still forced to leave behind the homes they love. B+
Fiddler on the Roof (Broadway)