I was that weird twelve-year-old who had no problem watching the nearly three-and-a-half-hour long film Fiddler on the Roof. I’ve talked about my history with the musical before, but given that I’ve not watched the film in so long because of its length, I wonder what about the film made me so captivated. There’s always that one thing you love when you’re young that’s just weird or totally unexpected for your age – for me, it was probably fairly bleak movie musicals and Shirley Temple movies. It was likely the sisters’ relationship and the joyful music that hooked me.
I’ve wanted to see the most recent Fiddler on the Roof Broadway revival since I knew the production was happening. The earliest I remember hearing about it was probably winter 2015 – maybe even towards the end of 2014? I’ve followed its cast members on Instagram, watched the Broadway.com vlogs by Adam Kantor, and read or watched any tidbits related to this production.
When I turned 21 back in September, I was really at a loss about what to ask for, and one of the only things I knew I wanted was Fiddler tickets – especially because it’ll be closing on New Year’s Eve. My mom bought herself, my sister, and me tickets for October 14, giving me an opportunity to see the show for the first time since 2008. It was, without a doubt, my favorite experience of this musical.
It might be because it’s a go-to production for high schools and community theaters, but it’s so easy for Fiddler to be the same old story over and over again. Director Bartlett Sher is known for his revivals of classic musicals (he also directed the most recent versions of The King and I and South Pacific), and I had read all about his attempts to have modern parallels in Fiddler, but I wasn’t expecting to have such an emotional response to that material I know so well being presented slightly differently.
The production uses artistic staging at moments like Chava’s return and leaving Anatevka that immediately reminded me of examples of exile in modern day. Maybe it’s because I was still pretty young the last time I actively watched the film, but I found a parallel between Chava’s pleading for acceptance and modern kids just wanting their parents to accept them for serious, perhaps controversial, decisions they’ve made. A big critics’ takeaway of the show was seeing the comparison between the Jews leaving to today’s refugees leaving their homes. The ending sequence was beautifully choreographed, and the decision to embrace the moment’s silence and solemnity really made me notice just how intense this finale is.
The show also opened and closed with Danny Burstein, who plays Tevye, in a red hoodie, initially reading the opening monologue off a piece of paper as if it is an ancestor’s diary. There is a moment at the end after the last scene of dialogue when Burstein returns in the red hoodie, shares a look with the Fiddler, and hugs the piece of paper in a way that just killed me. Putting such emphasis on the concept of an ancestral story really made me interpret the show in a far more adult way.
Burstein was incredible as Tevye. He is incandescently joyful at the story’s highs and completely heartbreaking at its lows. He won other theater awards for this role, and I firmly believe that if Hamilton had opened in another year, the Best Actor Tony would have been his. Any Broadway fan knows how much of a physical sacrifice Burstein has made for this role, and I believe it. From his powerful voice to quick movements, he made this classic role his own – being most familiar with the film, I know Topol’s Tevye the best, and Burstein was able to create a Tevye I didn’t even think to compare to the film’s version. The rest of the cast was lovely – having gotten to know their faces and personalities through social media, I think I felt the most connected I ever have to a Broadway cast as a whole.
I also enjoyed the tiny bits that appear in the stage show a little differently than in the movie. Two additional songs – “The Rumor” and “Now I Have Everything” – that aren’t in the film and usually not in community productions were shorter than I expected, and I can see why they’re often dispensable, but I think “Now I Have Everything” was great at fleshing out Perchik and Hodel’s relationship even more. Alexandra Silber, who plays Tzeitel in this production, actually played Hodel in the last London revival of the show, and has written a novel about what happens to Hodel and Perchik when they’re in Siberia. The book comes out in July, and I’ll definitely be checking it out!
The set design was gorgeous, and the effect of cast members emerging from a slanted entrance in the back of the stage just worked so well. I also absolutely loved Hofesh Shechter’s choreography – there are parts of it that are exactly what you’d expect when thinking of Fiddler, but this new choreography has a kind of roughness that perfectly displays the passion these characters have for their traditional lifestyle. For a glimpse of how great the dancing is, check out the video below of the cast’s performance at last year’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (side note: after being in the UK for Thanksgiving last year, I’m so excited to be home to watch the parade this year! The Broadway performances are my favorite part):
Overall, I was pretty stunned at how this production made me think so differently about a show I can quote almost verbatim. Ever since I was little, I’ve always thought that the second act is just so grim compared to the joyful first, but here, it was mentally stimulating to watch, and made me appreciate the entire show even more. Congratulations to this cast on such an amazing show, and good luck with the last two months of your run!