Lyric Opera of Chicago Presents FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Review – Between Earth and Heaven

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The Lyric Opera’s production of Fiddler on the Roof transpires almost entirely at ground level. From this solid horizontal, the Jews of Anatevka appeal to the Almighty for help with all that disrupts the orderly flow of life.

Director Barrie Kosky tosses nostalgia aside and reimagines Sholem Aleichem’s story of Tevye -- the dairyman who tries to keep his footing as his relationship to God, his wife and his five daughters shifts tectonically – in a flat and chilly landscape. Make no mistake, the content of Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s historic musical is intact. But when it comes to form, Kosky and his production team sketch fearlessly outside conventional lines.

A Fiddler on a Scooter

The opening scene signals the incongruity between content and form. A child in a contemporary green sweatshirt and headphones rides onstage on a scooter. The youngster then switches the headphones for a violin and becomes the titular fiddler – but his roof turns out to be Tevye’s shoulder. While the visual image is unexpected, the notes that the diminutive musician plays have been heard around the globe since the show’s premiere in 1964. 

Kosky and his set designer Rufus Didwiszus rebuild Anatevka from what seems like a storage unit of great-grandparents’ furniture, using faded black and white photos as inspiration. Tradition gets a very nontraditional staging in which characters enter through undersized wooden cabinets. Thus, the space has a crowded, worn, utilitarian feel that may well be closer to actual conditions in a 1905 Russian shtetl than softer scenic interpretations. Similarly, the whole of Act II is presented on a barren, snow-laced stage, evoking a relentless Russian winter.

Fiddler on the Roof Reconsidered

At every turn, this revival takes familiar moments and forces the audience to reconsider them, often through Marco Philipp’s targeted lighting. As the family gathers around the table for Sabbath Prayer, the candles illuminate faces not with gentle warmth but instead with penetrating intensity. Heaven and earth meet peacefully – at least during dinner. When anti-Semites invade Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding celebration, the guests scatter and Tevye’s clan huddles center stage. The thugs lift Tevye’s milk cans and douse everyone, evoking violence with dazzling white.

A few moments, however, strike this viewer as imaginative but without enough payoff. Among them is Tevye’s Dream in which Tevye and Golde squeeze into a bed in a cabinet while the characters of the dream perform in Day of the Dead-style skull masks and colorful tuxedos. Thoroughly captivating, it was nonetheless a puzzling reference to a very different culture, in this writer’s opinion. 

Musical Theater Voices at Lyric Opera

The cast comes largely from musical theater, not opera, and their voices stay firmly on the ground rather than soar to the rafters. However, the opera-scale chorus that assembles onstage for the big numbers carry dramatic and vocal power. In their drab provincial clothing, these shtetl dwellers hint at the strength to survive when they must flee their beloved home. What happens in Lyric’s Fiddler cannot be categorized as opera or musical theater. If they put their preconceptions aside, lovers of either or both genres are likely to sit forward in their seats as the production offers up one surprise after another.


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Austen Bohmer as Hodel, Maya Jacobson as Chava, Drew Redington as Motel, Adam Kaplan as Perchik, Michael Nigro as Fyedka, Liliana Renteria as Shprintze, Omi Lichtenstein as Bielke, Jackson Evans as Mendel, Tommy Novak as Avram, Steven Strafford as Mordcha, Bill McGough as the Rabbi, Michael Kingston as the Constable, and Melody Betts as Grandma and Fruma Sarah.


Rufus Didwiszus as set designer and Klaus Bruns as costume designer, both in their Lyric debuts, along with the lighting design of Diego Leetz skillfully recreated by Marco Philipp in a Lyric debut for both designers. Otto Pichler’s original choreography is masterfully recreated for Lyric by Silvano Marraffa. The robust forces of the Lyric Opera Chorus bring the village of Anatevka to life under the steady leadership of Lyric’s chorus master Michael Black—culminating in a musical production that is as wholly reimagined as it is filled with endless talent.


Thru October 7, 2022


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For more information and tickets visit the Lyric Opera of Chicago website.

Photos Courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

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

Susan Lieberman
Susan Lieberman

About the Author: Susan Lieberman

Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows aired on BBC Radio 4 last season.

Editor's Note: Click here to find more Picture This Post reviews by Susan Lieberman

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