note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Sheila Barth
. For me, “Fiddler on the Roof,” the classic musical that’s based on the beloved Sholom Alecheim stories, is like returning home, to my childhood, and all of the colorful, bittersweet stories the elders and my mother told me about “the old country”. Although “Fiddler” is set in a Russian shtetl, Anatevka, in 1905, during the tsar’s regime, my closest relatives, who left their Polish shtetl in 1910-1915, with the huge immigration waves to America, retained their old ways and told tales - in Yiddish - of their fear of their non-Jewish neighbors, pogroms, my grandfather’s conscription in the Russian army, and of a simpler, agrarian life where everyone huddled together like one big happy, feuding family.
Apparently, 74-year-old Israeli star Topol grew up with the same stories that his grandfather from a Polish shtetl told him, and he has reprised his role of Tevye, the Jewish milkman, with the same shoulder-shrugging resignation towards the era’s anti-Semitism of our forefathers, but with an increased intensity to preserve Judaic tradition.
This national touring company, co-starring Revere’s own superstar, Susan Cella, reprising her role of Golde, Teyve’s pragmatic wife, is priceless. It captures all of the traditions, the music, and the philosophy of days long gone, and the turn-of-the-century trend towards modern mores, including socialism and young couples marrying for love instead of being contracted together by a matchmaker. The olden ways, even in 1905 Russia, were becoming as shaky as a fiddler on the roof, for better or worse, and in this production, the fiddler plays a far more dominant role with each change.
Regardless of how many times one sees and hears Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics and Jerry Bock’s music in songs like “Tradition,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “L’Chayim,” “Matchmaker,Matchmaker,” “Do You Love Me,”and “If I Were a Rich Man,” they still tug at our heartstrings, regardless of our nationality or religion.
Cella, who has played Golde twice - with Theodore Bikel in 2001 and now with Topol, but also starred as Yente the nosey matchmaker in Oqunquit, Maine, said “Fiddler” expresses the same love of family, tradition, and warmth that her large Italian family enjoys, and that love shines on stage.
The entire cast is delightful, with Rena Strober, Jamie Davis and Hannah DelMonte playing Tevye’s oldest three daughters; Erik Lieberman as mousey Motel the Tailor; Colby Foytik as socialistic student Perchik, and Eric Van Tielen as daughter Chava’s Russian love, Fyedka. Clearly ,though, Topol steals every scene, with his understated, low-key shrugs, conversations with God, and his inner battles with change. When he sings, his baritone is as rich as it was 30 years ago, both in the award-winning movie and on stage. He is, indeed, a phenomenon.
Also enchanting are Tony Ray Hicks‘ costumes, Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz’s dramatic lighting, David Andrews Rogers‘ wonderful music direction and the orchestra,and director Sammy Dallas Bayes’ fabulous choreography.
Be good to yourself. Give yourself an early Christmas/Chanukah gift, and see “Fiddler on the Roof”. Trust me - you’ll thank me.
BOX INFO: Two-act, Tony Award-winning classic musical,starring Topol and Revere’s own Susan Cella, through November 15 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2, 7:30 p.m.; with a special matinee Thursday, Nov. 12, at 1 p.m.,but no evening performance on Thursday, Nov. 15. Tickets are $20-$91. Call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, visit the Box Office at the Colonial Theatre, or BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com