Broadway in Chicago presents FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Review: Creative and Hauntingly Relevant Production of Award-Winning Musical

Ensemble of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF oan Marcus

“The world is changing.”

 Motel provides the above explanation when he breaks tradition to ask Tevye for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Tevye’s next-eldest daughter says the same when she wishes to follow a man she loves to a far-off place. Tevye’s third daughter repeats it yet again when she explains why she has fallen in love with a man of whom her father does not approve.

Fiddler on the Roof is a lighthearted musical about many things. Marriage and tradition are among the most obvious themes. Change however is certainly present, and especially in Bartlett Sher’s production, acts as a backdrop that takes the classic story right into the present.

Broadway in Chicago presents Fiddler on the Roof

With music by Jerry Bock and book by Joseph Stein, Fiddler on the Roof follows Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov, with a stellar vocal quality and engaging stage presence), a poor, Jewish dairyman with five daughters living in the Russian village Anatevka. As explained in the opening number Tradition, Anatevka has a certain structure, and every member of the family (the Papas, Mamas, Sons, and Daughters) have their specific role to play. The fathers have the power, and all decisions – including who the daughters marry, falls to the head man of the house. However, times are changing, and through his daughters’ marriages, Tevye begins to see that traditions may have to shift as well.

The musical features famous songs including If I Were a Rich Man (hilariously portrayed by Lazarov), Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Do You Love Me, To Life, and Sunrise, Sunset. A combination of choreography from Hofesh Shechter (original choreography) and Christopher Evans (recreated choreography) bring the numbers to thrilling life, with the help of a stellar and talented ensemble.

Ensemble of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Joan Marcus

Bringing Fiddler on the Roof into Today

In the background of this musical full of upbeat songs (set in 1906) is the very real issue of the time – the pogroms in Europe. The Constable (Jeff Brooks) enters in and out of the story, and while and Tevye get along fine, this main character is forced to accept that familial traditions are not the only changes at play, and Anatevka may no longer be a welcome home for this Jewish community. Director Bartlett Sher takes that thematic element to an extreme, and in this writer’s opinion, creatively utilizes it to thrust the story into a modern context. At the top of the show, Tevye enters the stage with one of the most famous lines of the musical:

“A fiddler on the roof… sounds crazy, no?

But here, in our little village of Anatevka,

you might say, everyone of us is a fiddler on the roof.”

However, in this particular production, Sher and Costume Designer Catherine Zuber dress Tevye a modern-day red parka with glasses. Set Designer Michael Yeargan’s stage is bare, except for one single chair at the foot of the stage, and a worn-out sign above that reads “Anatevka.” The fiddler (Paul Morland, with impeccable talent and striking stage presence) enters at the back and plays the opening notes as Tevye enters and walks to the chair. He opens a book, and begins to read his monologue. As he moves through the lines, he begins to take off the red parka, the glasses, and puts on a Kippah to cover his head. As he begins to become the Tevye those familiar with the story might recognized, he hits the lines:

Yehezkel Lazarov in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Joan Marcus

“It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?

Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home.”

 The ensemble enters and as Tradition begins, Sher invites the audience to draw connections between this story taking place in 1905 Europe, and the current refugee crisis. This writer does not want to give anything away, but the image of the Fiddler and the modern-day Tevye sharing the stage does not end with this opening scene. Sher invites us to consider whether or not the injustices of what happen to Tevye’s village – from the small interruptions from the Constable and his soldiers to the moment the Jewish people are forced out of their homes, are every bit as relevant as the time in which the story takes place.

Stunning Stage Craft

The set is minimal, and many of the changes involve painted backdrops falling into place, or actors moving minor set pieces on and off stage. Sher creatively utilizes the transitions to help keep these moments within the context of the storytelling.

Sunrise, Sunset takes place during the wedding of Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tzeitel (Mel Weyn) and Motel (Jesse Weil, whose impressive voice and adorable charm elicited cheers after his rendition of Miracle of Miracles). Tevye and his wife, Golde (Maite Uzal) share the exquisite duet, creating, in this writer’s opinion, a heartfelt and moving scene.

Ensemble of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in Sunrise, Sunset Joan Marcus

As the ensemble transitions out of Motel’s tailor shop into the wedding scene, Sher begins with Motel lifting his new wedding hat into the air. As he places the hat on his head, the ensemble fills in and moves the stage – his tailor shop set transitions out, a gorgeous red, sunset backdrop comes down, and the wedding party begins to fill in with the opening notes of the song – first the men, and then the women, as per tradition. The transition is seamless, and physicalizes the movement of time for the audience in what is in this writer’s view a stunning manner.

A brilliant ensemble and original interpretation make this production of Fiddler on the Roof one that should not be missed. After witnessing the standing ovation for the Press Opening performance, this writer is not surprised that she cannot stop thinking about it.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Watch this video showing the TOP PICK PLAYS of 2019

Cast:

Yehezkel Lazarow… Tevye
Maite Uzal… Golde
Mel Weyn… Tzeital
Ruthy Froch… Hodel
Natalie Powers… Chava
Danielle Allen… Shprintze
Emerson Glick… Bielke
Carol Beaugard… Yente
Jesse Weil…. Motel
Ryne Nardechhia… Perchik
Jonathan von Mering…. Lazar Wolf
Danny Arnold… Mordcha
Michael Hegarty… Rabbi
Nick Siccone… Mendel
Brian Silver… Avram
Carolyn Keller… Grandma Tzeitel
Olivia Gjurich.. Fruma-Sarah
Eric Mitchell Berey… Yussel/Nachum
Jeff Brooks… Constable
Joshua Logan Alexander… Fyedka
Jack O’Brien… Sasha
Carolyn Keller… Shaindel
Paul Morland… The Fiddler

Crew:

Joseph Stein… Book
Jerry Bock… Music
Sheldon Harnick… Lyrics
Bartlett Sher… Director
Hofesh Shechter… Original Choreography
Christopher Evans… Recreated Choreography
Michael Yeargan… Set Design
Catherine Zuber… Costume Design
Donald Holder… Lighting Design
Scott Lehrer & Alexander Neumann… Sound Design
Michael Uselmann… Music Director/Conductor

When:

Running through January 6, 2019

Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Wednesdays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm

Running Time: 2 hours and 55 minutes, with intermission

Where:

Cadillac Palace Theatre
151 W Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60601

For tickets and information, see the Broadway in Chicago show page.

Photo credit

Photos: Joan Marcus

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

About the Author:

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.

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