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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
at Broadway Theater

PRETTY GOOD YEAR
By MATT WINDMAN

  Ph: Judy Kuhn

Since the current Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof is closing at the end of the year, I decided to pay one last visit to Anatevka (i.e. the Broadway Theatre) at a recent Saturday matinee. Other great productions that are also on the verge of closing to make way for the new spring lineup on Broadway include Matilda, Something Rotten!, The Color Purple, The Humans and Falsettos, which means you better hurry if you haven’t caught them already.  

Bartlett Sher’s excellent production will have lasted approximately one year on Broadway, roughly half the length of the musical’s inferior, critically derided 2004 revival staged by David Leveaux and starring Alfred Molina and then Harvey Fierstein. This begs the question of why this revival could not sustain a longer run. It earned raves, whereas the one in 2004 was lampooned as downbeat, lacking in heart and authenticity (as Forbidden Broadway described it, “a Fiddler with no Jew”), and for infamously staging “Matchmaker” as a girl-on-girl sponge bath.

Furthermore, Fiddler remains as brilliant, bold and timely as ever, especially in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis (which Sher nods to at the very end) and a disconcerting rise of xenophobia, hate crimes and anti-Semitic gestures following the election of Trump.

Almost no revival on Broadway can succeed commercially (i.e. not as a limited run by a not-for-profit company like the Roundabout) unless it has a major screen star leading the cast (Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly!, Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed). The exception to the rule is, of course, Chicago. Casting Danny Burstein (who appeared in Sher’s productions of South Pacific and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) as Tevye was inspired and unexpected. Burstein brings a humble, sensitive take on the colossal character, eschewing the broad antics used by actors like Zero Mostel and Harvey Fierstein in the part. But Burstein has, of course, limited appeal to a mass audience.

The only way Fiddler could have kept running beyond December 31 would have been to bring in a major star to take over as Tevye. The only person I can think of would be Mandy Patinkin (who apparently played Tevye as a teenager). But apart from concert work, Mandy has not appeared on Broadway since the ill-fated The Wild Party, and he is probably busy shooting Homeland.

Furthermore, Fiddler has also been around so long, and is performed so often, that it’s hard to get even the people who love the musical to pay Broadway prices to see it yet again. Sher made some interesting choices (opening it with Tevye dressed in modern attire and reading from a book, a levitating Fiddler, spare scenery, new choreography by Hofesh Shechter), and the performances are all meticulously detailed, but this production hardly constitutes the kind of wholesale reinvention that makes a musical feel brand new (not that Fiddler would actually benefit from such heavy-handed intervention). Considering all this, a year’s run is pretty decent and the show’s producers, creative team, and cast ought to be proud.

Danny Burstein was absent at the performance I recently attended – a fact I did not realize until I sat down and saw the insert stuffed into my playbill. His understudy, Adam Grupper (who usually plays the rabbi), gave a fine performance in the role. Grupper’s Tevye was proud, jovial and full of presence. Michael Bernardi (son of Herschel Bernardi, a famous Tevye) filled in for Grupper as the rabbi. Stephanie Lynne Mason was also on as Chava (usually played by Melanie Moore).

The production as a whole is in great shape. New to the cast is Judy Kuhn, who recently gave a soul-baring performance in Fun Home and has taken over as Golde from Jessica Hecht. Holdovers from the original cast included Alexandra Silber as Tzeitel, Samantha Massell as Hodel, Adam Dannheisser as Lazar Wolf, and Adam Kantor as Motel.

I have no doubt that I’ll see Fiddler again soon – perhaps at a regional theater, or on a non-Equity tour, or performed by a local high school or synagogue – but it will be at least another decade until it returns to Broadway with a full orchestra playing the incomparable Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock score.

 


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