REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof

For those who are not familiar with this musical, Fiddler on the Roof is set in Russia in 1905. This is an era when entire Jewish populations of villages were being evicted from their homes.  Although this was a time of great tragedy and sadness, the musical (written in 1964) is predominantly a comedy. It follows Tevye, a man who is experiencing the tension between the traditional life he knows, and the changing times—both politically and in the form of his daughters desiring to choose their own spouse, rather than enter into a marriage arranged by their parents.

This production is faithful to the Broadway original in all its singing, dancing, tearful, and humor-filled glory. The dancing (choreography by Hofesh Shechter) is dazzling. Everyone moves like a professional dancer, and yet they all look like they’re ad-libbing it just a little bit (I’m sure they weren’t). This look of “just normal villagers dancing,” and yet looking AMAZING, is almost never fully achieved in most touring stage productions – but it was here! The movement, speed, excitement, and balance between moments of apparent chaos and moments where all the characters move as one was simply thrilling.

The beauty of the sets was remarked upon by both my companion and myself.  There was a little bit of overly-clever spinning of doorways as a transition from an outdoor to an indoor scene that I found a little disorienting, but other than that I found the sets incredibly effective. A combination of realistic and abstract, they enhanced the mood of the scene without dominating it. This included a beautiful but subtle painted backdrop and some incredibly impactful use of silhouettes.

The staging/choreography walks that fine line between incredibly exciting action on the stage and “too much going on.” Many complicated scenes, from a fantastical dream sequence to the villagers celebrating at a wedding were so engrossing that after a particularly exciting scene, when the rabbi finished a prayer, I think my companion and I both said “Amen” along with the cast!

The main drawbacks for me were problems I frequently have with stage productions – overly melodramatic acting, and some rather random movements across the stage with no apparent purpose other than to create movement on the stage. If you love stage productions, then this will not bother you at all. But if, like me, you are more fond of the subtleties of film acting, then I would say come for the singing, dancing, and humor, not the acting.

As a minor warning, if you are not familiar with how musicals of this era (1964) treated themes of sexism, then you should be aware that, for example, when one character calls another “radical!” for endorsing education for women, it is played for laughs. Likewise, a song lyric about arranged marriage commenting that “You heard he has a temper? He’ll beat you every night? But only when he’s sober—so you’re alright.” This was an era when we were all so liberated (right?) that an old-fashioned character saying such a sexist thing was a ubiquitous comedy punchline. If you are extremely sensitive to the sexism of the early 1900s being played for laughs – even in a show written in 1964 – then you might need to give this one a miss.

At the show I met several friends who are season ticket holders, and they proclaimed Fiddler on the Roof the best production of the season. So if you are a musical theatre lover, you really don’t want to miss this one.

Fiddler on the Roof is at The Orpheum Theatre through August 4, 2019. Tickets start at $39.

DEAL ALERT: Student/Educator rush tickets are available for all performances. 2 tickets per valid student or educator ID. $25 per ticket, cash only. Available at the Orpheum Theatre box office two hours prior to showtime. Tickets are extremely limited and may not be together. Subject to availability.

Review by Karen Cieminski; Photo by Joan Marcus