If you had been around in the fall of 1964 (and some of us were, though extremely young!) and in New York seeing Broadway shows, what a smorgasbord you had to choose from: the original cast of “Hello, Dolly!” with Carol Channing; “Funny Girl,” with a 22-year-old Barbra Streisand, and a musical called “Fiddler on the Roof,” which quickly became a legend and the first show to run over 3,000 performances. Now “Fiddler” is playing at the Cobb Energy Centre through March 21, starring the inimitable Harvey Fierstein with a first-class national company, and it is not to be missed.
Directed by Sammy Dallas Bayes, who was a 20-year-old chorus kid in the original Broadway production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, Mr. Bayes has faithfully recreated Robbins’ masterwork (or one of them) with all its evocative charm and resonance. As you probably know, “Fiddler” is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories and is set in 1905 Tsarist Russia in the tiny village of Anatevka.
“Love—it’s the new style,” laments Tevye the milkman (Fierstein) to his wife Golde (Susan Cella) because he has five marriageable daughters; and the “Tradition” is for the “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” (song titles, you see) to arrange marriages. But Tevye’s daughters have minds of their own; and starting with the lovely Tzeitel (Kaitlin Stilwell), who’s set her cap for the shy mensch Motel the tailor (charmingly played by Zal Owen) instead of the wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf (David Brummel), Teyve begins a tug of war between his love for his daughters and tradition. Yente, the matchmaker (Mary Stout) is good-natured but not thrilled about having her role usurped.
All of these performers (and many I cannot mention in the large cast) are exemplary. In this “Fiddler” “even the orchestra is beautiful,” to borrow a line from “Cabaret.” In the large and gorgeous Energy Centre, the sound has been fine-tuned, and you won’t miss a syllable or a note wherever you’re sitting. The book is by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Steve Gilliam’s scenic design is effective and lovely. Oh, yes, Perchik (Colby Foytik) and Fyedka (Matthew Marks), two of the suitors, contribute fine performances. There are no weak links in this cast.
And then there is Harvey Fierstein. His Tevye is a father and husband of strength, love, feistiness, warmth, great humor (his chats with God are worth the price of admission), but thankfully, not intransigence. If you’re familiar with this great sweet sage of the American theatre (as actor and playwright), you’ll be impressed anew as he puts his indelible, unforgettable stamp on this iconic role.
“Fiddler on the Roof” evokes powerful emotions; the pogram visited upon Anatevka cannot help but remind one of the later horrors of the 20th Century. Songs such as “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Far from the Home I Love” (beautifully sung by Jamie Davis as Hodel) cast a spell you won’t soon forget. See this “Fiddler.”