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A CurtainUp Review
Fiddler on the Roof
By Elyse

Anatevka's Continues to Break With Traditional Casting
Rosie O'Donnell as Golde
Rosie O'Donnell as Golde
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Harvey Fierstein proved that you don't have to be straight to be an endearing Teyve. Now, Rosie O'Donnell is here to say that you don't have to be either heterosexual or Jewish to be an effective Golde. The newly cast show had an official re-opening 10/13/05 but while O'Donnell's name carries a lot of clout at the box office b it's unlikely that this will affect the currently scheduled 1/08/06 closing date. -- e.s.

Postscript from CurtainUp reader Annette Zwellig: Seeing these two roles filled by two actors who personify the acceptance of tradition as an ongoing concept proofs that this musical's story is timeless enough to be forever new. Rosie will never win a singing or dancing prize and neither will Harvey-- but both have captured the spirit of tradition and Yiddishkeit. As for the staging so many critics have written about so dismissively, I'm with you, Elyse -- I like it and, on seeing the show for a second time, find that, like the casting, it is an example of tradition as ongoing and changing rather than embalmed.

To Rosie, Harvey and the whole cast a hearty le'chayim!

Anatevka Gets an Endearing New Tevye
Harvey Fierstein as  Tevye
The New First Couple of Anatevka: Andrea Martin as Golde & Harvey Fierstein as Tevye. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Yes, it was a somewhat iffy proposition to have Harvey Fierstein become the human horse pulling the famous milkman's wagon and donning Tzitzis (ritual fringes worn by orthodox Jews). Could the famously gravelly voice bring off Tevye's lengthy ballads. Could the actor who was a campy triumph as Edna Turnbladt in Hairspray handle the serious demands of the patriarch whose world is slipping away as his daughters one by one reject match-made marriages and the rumblings of change threaten the poor but tradition-rich world of the village of Anatevka?

Rest easy. Harvey is a very fine Tevye. As someone who's seen Zero Mostel and Topol, and most recently Alfred Molina, I found myself responding to Harvey Fierstein as if I were seeing Fiddler On the Roof for the first time. What he brings to the Minskoff stage is no gimmick-cast Tevye but the genuine article. The humor and warmth of this patriarch brings not just star power but a whole new emotional texture to this beautiful production.

Fierstein is an arresting presence from the moment he steps on stage to sing "Tradition." What he lacks in terms of vocal power, he more than makes up for in his delivery. That's not to say that he is a vocal disaster. Unlike Rex Harrison who was all sprech-stimme, Fierstein, the raspy voice notwithstanding, really sings and manages to be powerful or gentle as needed.

Best of all Fierstein brings genuine depth to Fiddler's most intense moments. The scene in which he waits at the railroad station as his daughter is about to join her beloved in Siberia goes straight to the heart -- especially the final fatherly gesture that has him giving her his gloves to keep her warm. His struggle at the end to keep from taking the daughter who married outside the faith into his arms tugs even harder at the heartstrings.

While Fierstein's dancing is pretty much in the category of a guest at a big Jewish wedding, it doesn't really matter since the showy choreography belongs to the young Russians and the Jewish bottle dancers. Three of those Russians who were in the show when it opened last February, have been replaced by equally agile dancers: Shane Braddock (Shane), Craig Ramsay (Vlader) and Adam Zotovich (Sasha).

Andrea Martin, the other major replacement is an ideal stage wife for this Tevye. The new first couple of Anatevka's stage chemistry is most evident in the famous "Do You Love Me?" duet.

Laura Michelle Kelly, the original Hodel who's currently flying around the London stage as Mary Poppins, is ably replaced by Laura Shoop. Robert Petkoff as her revolutionary lover, Perchik, remains one of the strongest supporting players. The original Yente, Nancy Opel, seems to have tapped deeper into the humor of her role as the Matchmaker, though John Cariani has done little to tone down his somewhat over-the-top Motel.

David Levaux's staging and handling of the fiddler still strikes me as an ideal way to make a familiar old musical sing and dance anew but without seeming like an antique brought out of the attic and given a superficial dusting. For anyone looking for a beautiful, moving afternoon or evening at the theater, a visit or re-visit to Anatevka is highly recommended. -- Elyse Sommer, based on January 19, 2005 matinee performance.


Elyse Sommer's Review of Production When It First Opened at the Minskoff
And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in a word. . . Tradition
---Tevye
Alfred Molina as Tevye
Alfred Molina (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
As Sholom Aleichem's by now world famous milkman, Tevye, bemoans the erosion of tradition, so Fiddler on the Roof's legions of fans may bemoan some of director David Leveaux's rethinking of the Fiddler they've come to know and love. A young-ish but not Jewish Fiddler, daughters who would be equally comfortable in a less Jewish themed musical, a fiddler who roams around Anatevka instead of staying on his roof and that roof not attached to any visible house since the set is an abstract evocation of a Russian village. . . these are just some of the departures from the Fiddler that opened forty years ago, fiddled on for eight years and 3242 performances, and has since had several Broadway revivals and countless regional and community theater production -- and also exerts its musical influence on wedding and bar mitzvah celebrations to this day.

But forget the much publicized Thane Rosenzweig article implying that Leveux's Fiddler looks Jewish but fails the 100% kosher test and some of the first night critics' complaints along similar lines. Fiddler was never "echt" or authentically Jewish so much as an exquisitely Broadway-ized illusion of the shtetl life with progroms that are so mildly violent as to be almost civilized. As someone who saw the show with Zero Mostel as well as with Topol, and who was last moved by it five summers ago at a little country theater in the round, I can assure you that Leveux's Fiddler is a gorgeous and savvy production that manages to bring something new to the show while retaining its thrilling mix of timeless story, songs and dances.

Alfred Molina may not ignite the stage right away and his singing is more a B+ than an A+. Yet his show-opening "Tradition" made me fall in love with that heart-stopping opening number all over again. The director and actor's decisions about how to play Tevye work. He is still the focal character but he has ceded the role's super star bombast to the music and Jerome Robbins' choreography. In "If I Were a Rich Man" he has realistically opted for show tune rather than trying to give his biddy biddy bum-ing a more rabbinical rhythm. On the other hand -- and if you know your Fiddler, there's always an "on the other hand" -- in his Do You Love Me? duet with Randy Graff's charmingly crusty Golde he sends off a genuine romantic spark. In short, Molina may not have a bar mitzvah in his resume, but his Tevye is a likeable and even somewhat romantic mensch. By the time he pulled his horseless milk wagon around the Minskoff stage for the last time, out of Anatevkva and towards America, this attractive Tevye he won me over completely.

The staging is where this production is at its most tradition breaking and if purists can open their minds and eyes long enough to really look at Tom Pye's abstract outdoor setting, magnificently lit by Brian MacDevitt,. they'll see that those birch trees are an apt metaphor for the theme of reluctantly abandoned traditions. As the trees have lost their leaves so Tevye has lost his patriarchal hold over his daughters' marriages -- and he as well as all the Anatevkians are losing their way of life. The evocation of Chekhov's forests also link the Anatevka' of 1905 to the larger events on the horizon -- events that prompted the hunger for lost roots and accounts for Fiddler in the Roof's lasting appeal to audiences of all faiths and nationalities.

While leafless birches and a house suggested only by a fragmented, floating roof may sound like an underfurnished stage. Quite the contrary is true. The props rolled and carried out as needed, the visible yet unobtrusive on-stage orchestra fill the often cavernous looking Minskoff stage more completely than any production I can recall. Of course, the stage is at its most eye-popping when filled to the brim during the ensemble dances, during the haunting "Sabbath Prayer" and a truly brilliant dream scene in which Tevye and Golde's bed morphs into Chagall-like magic realism with Tzeitel (Sally Murphy) and Motel (John Cariani) bobbing up and down in the rear like puppets on a string.

Of the five daughters Laura Michelle Kelly's Hodel stands out. I also liked Robert Petkoff as the passionate revolutionary Perchik for whom she abandons the comfort of her family. Their "Now I Have Everything" is loaded with charm and feeling. Of the villagers, David Wohl's Lazar Wolf, the prosperous old butcher who wants to marry Tzeitel, is another standout -- talk of getting that raised arm, shoulder shrugging Klezmer style line dancing just so, he's the man to watch. The part of Yente the matchmaker which Bea Arthur originated, is played with slightly more understatement by Nancy Opel, last seen as the water-rationing Penelope Pennywise of Urinetown. She also gets to sing the only new song, "Topsy-Turvy, " which has some fun lyrics but is unlikely to stick to our ears as does every other song. Vicki Mortimer has dressed the entire cast in period-perfect costumes in a pleasing palette.

No review of this production would be complete without mention of the Fiddler (Nick Danielson) who here leaves that roof without a house where we first see and hear him and then hovers around the stage as a real presence. His handing his violin to a small child during the final shadowy tableau of the exodus is yet another interesting twist on tradition. Is he leaving the music of the Anatekva Jews behind to be rediscovered later -- or does the child foreshadow the offspring of these exiled people who will translate that music to the musical theater idiom?

So has David Leveaux kept the balance that comes from respecting tradition? I think so. In fact, I bet he and Mr. Pye could recycle those birches for a terrific musical adaptation of one of Chekhov's plays. On the other hand, if you don't agree, there are always those marvelous songs -- the title of any one of which will immediately start the music and bits of the lyrics playing in your head.

Fiddler On the Roof (regional production)

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Based on the Sholom Aleichem stories by special permission of Arnold Perl.
Book by Joseph Stein; music by Jerry Bock; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by David Leveaux
Choreography by and original New York Stage production directed by Jerome Robbins
Cast: Alfred Molina (Tevye), Randy Graff (Golde), Nancy Opel (Yente), Stephen Lee Anderson (Constable), David Ayers (Fyedka), Yusef Bulos (Rabbi), John Cariani (Motel), Laura Michelle Kelly (Hodel), Sally Murphy (Tzeitel), Tricia Paoluccio (Chava), Robert Petkoff (Perchik), Molly Ephraim (Bielke) and Lea Michele (Shprintze) Also:Nick Danielson, Philip Hoffman, David Wohl, Chris Ghelfi, Mark Lotito, Lea Michele, Stephen Ward Billeisen, Randy Bobish, Melissa Bohon, Enrique Brown, Sean Curley, Rita Harvey, Joy Hermalyn, Keith Kühl, Gina Lamparella, Jeff Lewis, Craig Ramsay, Roger Rosen, David Rossmer, Jonathan Sharp, Haviland Stillwell, Barbara Tirrell, Tom Titone, Michael Tommer, Francis Toumbakaaris, Marsha Waterbury, Bruce Winant, Gustavo Wons
Set Design: Tom Pye
Costume Design: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Hair and wig design: David Brian Brown
Music director/conductor: Kevin Stites
Associate Conductor: Charles duChateau
Musical staging: Jonathan Butterell
Orchestrations by Don Walker; additional orchestrations by Larry Hochman
Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
Onstage Clarinet Solo: Andrew Sterman
Musicians -- Concertmaster: Martin Agee; Violins: Cenovia Cummins, Conrad Harris, Heidi Stubner, Antoine Silverman; Violas: Debra Shufelt, Maxine Roach; Cellos: Peter Sachon, Charles duChateau; Lead Trumpet: Wayne duMaine; Trumpets: Tim Schadt, Joseph Reardon; Trombones/ Euphonium: Lisa Albrecht; Flutes: Brian Miller; Oboe: Matthew Dine; Clarinet/Flute: Andrew Sterman; Clarinet/Flute: Martha Hyde; Bassoon: Marc Goldberg; French Horns: Larry DiBello, Peter Schoettler; Drums/Percussion: Billy Miller; Bass: Peter Donovan; Accordion/Celeste: Elaine Lord; Guitar/Mandolin/Lute: Greg Utzig
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, plus intermission
Minskoff Theater, 200 West 45th Street (7th/8th Avs) 307-4100
Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
From 1/23/04; Opening 2/26/04. Tickets: $100, $75, and $40
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 3rd press performance
OK for ages 8 and up.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Tradition/Full Company
  • Matchmaker/Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, Bielke
  • If I Were a Rich Man/ Tevye
  • Sabbath Prayer/ Family and Villagers
  • To Life/ Tevye, Lazar, Village Men
  • Miracle of Miracles/. Motel
  • Tevye's Dream/Full Company
  • Sunrise, Sunset/Family and Villagers
Act Two
  • Now I Have Everything/Perchik, Hodel
  • Do You Love Me?/Tevye, Golde
  • Topsy-Turvy/ Yente, Rivka and Mirala
  • Far From the Home I Love/Hodel
  • Anatevka/ Family and Villagers





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