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National Tour of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Marcus Center through Sunday

Photo by Joan Marcus
Fiddler on the Roof will be at the Marcus Center through Sunday.

The National Tour of “Fiddler on the Roof” is playing at the Marcus Center until Sunday.

“Fiddler on the Roof” first took the Broadway stage in 1964, and became the first musical to play over 3,000 performances. It won nine awards in the 1965 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Since its original run, the musical has had five Broadway revivals, and was made into a movie in 1971.

The current production is the first national tour of the most recent 2015 Broadway revival, directed by Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter. The tour began in October 2018, and is continuing on across the country after their one-week stop in Milwaukee.

“Fiddler of the Roof” tells the story of Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov), a poor milkman, and his family: wife Golde (Maite Uzal), and daughters Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze and Bielke. They live in the Jewish village of Anatevka in 1905 Russia, where life is heavily structured by tradition. One aspect of the rigid Jewish tradition is their arranged marriages, often set up by town matchmaker Yente (Carol Beaugard). As each of Tevye’s three oldest daughters find love in nontraditional ways, they increasingly ask more of their father to test his adherence to tradition. At the same time, increasing persecution from the tsar threatens the Jewish village.

Over the years, “Fiddler on the Roof” has become and remained a beloved classic.

Actress Natalie Powers plays Chava in the First National Tour. She said audience reception so far has been great, as people of all ages have come to enjoy different aspects of the show.

“This show is pretty incredible in terms of the fan base, because we’ll get, you know, people who are in their eighties in the audience, singing along,” Powers said.

While the current production is the same “Fiddler” that audiences have been appreciating for the last 50 years, it takes on some new aspects. For one, Sher’s direction and Shechter’s choreography feel especially natural and authentic.

“That is one of the big points that is like a new, revitalized aspect of this production: super grounded, beautiful choreography,” Powers said. “Bartlett is really good at directing in a way that’s also very grounded and realistic. … He made sure that all of us were acting in a way that’s very genuine. It’s not a caricature piece in his direction.”

Additionally, Sher made some nuanced directing choices in the revival. One feature is a new beginning that ties the early 20th-century story to the modern day.

The show opens with a mostly empty stage. A faded sign reading “Anatevka” and the sound of a train passing signals to the audience the setting of an old train station. A man in a modern-day red jacket and pair of glasses enters the stage, looking at a book. He reads aloud from the text the opening lines of the show, and is joined on stage by the fiddler (Paul Morland), a silent man in a purple coat who reappears throughout the show to play his violin.

The man then takes his glasses and jacket off, puts on his hat and transforms into the show’s lead character and narrator, Tevye.

The opening number “Prologue: Tradition” introduces the village and their traditions and customs. There are just a few set pieces in the first number and a light-colored brick backdrop. Immediately the choreography style is illustrated. The traditional Jewish dance is performed in imperfect unison, as different members of the village show their different mannerisms.

An Israeli actor, director and artist, Lazarov leads the show with strong acting, impressive vocals and impeccable comedic timing. Tevye addresses God multiple times throughout the show, as a sort of aside. Lazarov’s acting narrates the story in a way often hilarious and at times heartbreaking. Though he does not have the most powerful voice in the cast, his quirks and mannerisms make it difficult for the audience not to like him.

Tevye’s wife Golde is strict and critical, rarely showing affection for her family and often butting heads with Tevye. Although I felt at times she was missing variety in her line delivery, Uzal built a believable presence as the frightening matriarch and portrayed a unique relationship with her husband that contrasted the tradition of arranged marriages with the couple’s daughters decisions to marry for love.

All three of Tevye’s oldest daughters command the stage in their own unique ways, best portrayed together in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” Tzeitel (Mel Weyn) exudes leadership as the eldest child and has strong vocals to match. Hodel (Ruthy Froch) is passionate and headstrong, with a powerfully pointed soprano voice to match. And Powers’ Chava displays simultaneous shy, bookish tendencies and strong resolve, highlighted by her powerful mixed belt.

Additionally, the daughters all had believable on-stage chemistry with their respective love interests. Each man exhibited incredible acting. Perchik (Ryne Nardecchia), the revolutionary student and tutor who falls in love with Hodel, portrayed a believable passion for justice and the changing times. Fyedka (Joshua Logan Alexander), the Christian Russian soldier who wins Chava’s heart, though not featured as much as the other men, was lovably mild-mannered, similar in voice and mannerisms to Fyedka in the 1971 film adaptation.

But it was Motel (Jesse Weil) — the anxious and awkward poor tailor and Tzeitel’s childhood friend-turned lover —  who stole the show for me. His stuttering, absolute terror when asking for Tzeitel’s hand in marriage was over-the-top yet endearing. The whole interaction, between Tevye’s thundering demands and Motel’s begging for Tevye to not yell — literally stumbling and falling to the ground — had the audience laughing. And Motel’s solo “Miracle of Miracles” was my unexpected favorite of the show, showing off Weil’s impressive vocals and range as a performer.

The only member of the cast I felt unimpressed by was Beaugard as Yente. While the other characters felt very authentic, Beaugard’s acting and line delivery made Yente seem more like an actor on stage than the quirky old village woman herself.

Still, the cast was outstanding. The choreography was absolutely incredible. I was particularly blown away by the fast-paced dancing in “To Life” and “The Wedding.” Aside from dancing, blocking and special effects made “Sabbath Prayer” and “Tevye’s Dream” additional stand-out numbers.

The show ends similarly to how it began: In the final scene, Tevye comes on stage again as the modern-day man in the red coat, now finishing the final pages of the book. The fiddler returns. The large set pieces and backdrops are removed, to once again reveal the blank light brick wall. And then the brick wall lifts up to reveal a bright white backdrop of absolutely nothing, to me perfectly reflecting the uncertain future and blank slate the persecuted Jews face.

The show comes to a close with the last notes of the fiddler’s violin. Reappearing throughout the show, his bright purple coat in stark contrast to the neutral tones worn by the rest of the cast, the fiddler is a lasting theme of the musical. Powers said a common question audiences ask after the show is the meaning of the fiddler’s presence.

“He’s a metaphor for this life we live, where we’re living in terms that aren’t necessarily stable but we’re still making a beautiful tune with an instrument that’s fragile,” Powers explained.

“Fiddler on the Roof” has resonated with audiences for years, and continues to do so today. At the same time the First National Tour of the 2015 revival is playing at its tour stop in Milwaukee, off-Broadway theater Studio 54 in New York City is beginning previews for the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” performed entirely in Yiddish. Professional and amateur productions continue across the world. Since its debut, Fiddler on the Roof has been a favorite of many, and the National Tour does not disappoint.

Performances continue at the Marcus Center until Sunday. Tickets can be purchased online.

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