Over four years after its opening date on Broadway, this touring production of Fiddler on the Roof is presently making a brief sojourn here in Seattle. This iconic musical made its original debut in 1964 and is unlikely to ever fall from favor with audiences around the world. Between its memorable characters and unforgettable score (even if you've never set foot in a theatre in your life you know "If I Were a Rich Man"... even if only Gwen Stefani's gender altered version). But with such notoriety and familiarity comes the potential trap of phoning in what everyone expects. As I am personally a big fan of this classic I decided to check it out for myself and brought my niece along with me, who was seeing it for the first time.
To start, as much as I appreciate Jerome Robbins and recognize his unquestionable significance, I was pleased to see that we would be privy to some new direction and choreography. Bartlett Sher's direction, as recreated by Sari Ketter, starts and ends with an odd trick, having a man in modern clothes look up at a sign reading "Anatevka" in Cyrillic, who then morphs into Tevye in period clothing as the opening chords of "Tradition" are struck. Spoiler alert: he then morphs back to the modern world for the last seconds of the production just before the curtain falls. This seems like a device intended to tie this story into the on-going life of the modern world but ultimately feels a bit tacked on. That quirk aside, the tone of the production takes on an interestingly casual quality and flows with a relaxed manner. Instead of hitting hard on many of the scripts most well known jokes and moments, it often lets them pass by, almost as throwaways instead of shoving in them in audience's faces with a painful nudge and wink. While some lines do get lost in this process it is also quite refreshing and helps to breath new life into the dialogue, allowing its humorous and touching exchanges some softer and more subtle landings. Sher's direction stands out most during the second act number "Chavaleh" and is greatly complimented by Hofesh Shechter's moving and guttural choreography. As Tevye sings this plaintive eulogy he is separated by a sheer screen from his daughter Chava. The metaphor is not subtle, but it is visually effective, particularly as Chava breaks through the divide to confront her mourning father. Shechter's unique movements are both captivating and uncanny and beautifully performed by the actors.
The cast takes a few numbers to warm up this half a century old musical and Yehezkel Lazarov, Tevye, is no exception. It wasn't until about half way through "Rich Man" that a promising glimmer began to shine through, but it grows gradually stronger from there on out. Lazarov most embodies the casual tone mentioned earlier and succeeds in landing his own, unique interpretation of this legendary role (even inching a little out of the looming shadow of the great, late Zero Mostel, the role's originator, is no small feat). Lazarov doesn't fill out all of Tevye's many dimensions, but he provides enough to carry the role with an interpretation which leans towards levity and in moments dips into the deeper sorrows and humanity of the complicated role. Nick Siccone offers a stand-out performance as "Motel" finding a very natural, comic approach which never sacrifices the genuine essence of the character to get a laugh, but rather comes by his comedy honestly and organically. Most of the production's actors manage to keep their characters human in this manner instead of easing into the preconceived notions held by anyone who has ever suffered through a bad high school or community theatre production of the piece. One unfortunate exception to this effort is Carol Beaugard's Yente. In opposition to the new and less-traveled paths everyone else is trying to take, Beaugard trods down an all-too-familiar one, delivering a Yente who assumes everyone prefers what they already know, "Right? Of course right.". Fortunately the cliches are greatly out-numbered by those working to escape them, resulting in a largely fresh take on this established masterpiece.
While this particular tour isn't going to leave much of a memorable mark on my own theatrical memory, my niece really enjoyed it and if you've never seen a professional production of Fiddler, this is probably one of the best you're going to see in a long time, so check it out before it leaves in Seattle... or catch a plane to Salt Lake City which is the tour's next stop as this cast begins their gradual migration eastward.
Fiddler on the Roof performs in Seattle through January 19th. For more information, go to: http://fiddlermusical.com/