Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Fiddler on the Roof

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2011 at 2:36 PM

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The eternally-touring production of Fiddler on the Roof has now parked itself at the Majestic for a one-week run, with John Preece celebrating his 1800th (!) performance as Tevye, everyone’s favorite dancing milkman. And while the sheer longevity of this tour had me worried about the production’s freshness, the opening strains of "Tra-di-tion!" soon put my mind at ease: this is a perfectly acceptable facsimile of Jerome Robbins’ iconic original.

Of course, you might argue—and rightly—that your entertainment dollars deserve more than just acceptable, and this non-Equity tour certainly has some rough edges, particularly in the supporting parts. While Tevye’s marriageable daughters are portrayed by a tuneful and winsome trio of actresses—Brooke Hills, Sarah Sesler, and Chelsey LeBel—the normally colorful roles of the rabbi, Yente, and Constable suffer from some stilted or amateurish acting. Preece is amiable and polished in the title role—he clearly has his schtick down—while Pamela D. Chabora’s voice is far too thin for Golde, Tevye’s long-suffering wife.

It turns out that the real star of the show is—and there’s little surprise here—Jerome Robbins. Fiddler’s famous set pieces—including the dream sequence of the first act, and the delirious wedding dance just before intermission—demonstrate that nobody can stage musical theatre better than the big JR. (Some terrible diction in the dream sequence, however, robs that scene of some intelligibility.) The large ensemble’s dancing is energetic and lively (if occasionally imprecise), and Steve Gilliam’s efficient, storybook set captures the essence of peasant life in pre-revolutionary Russia.

Even with an amazing score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick—including the most memorable use of the subjunctive in English (“If I Were A Rich Man”)—the evening runs a bit long; the first act clocks in at 100 minutes, or roughly the length of the 20th century. And the concluding farewell to the hamlet of Anatevka is staged as a curiously inert affair: the evening ends with a whimper, not a bang.

So: if you’ve a hankering for Fiddler—and it’s somehow un-American not to have a hankering for it—this touring production delivers exactly what it promises: a sincere reproduction of the original. Whether this type of long-touring production ought to be included on the subscription Broadway-Across-America series, well, that’s a story for another column. (I've the sense that San Antonio is playing

second fiddle.)

--Thomas "I Belong to Anatevka" Jenkins, Current theatre critic.

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