It’s always heartening when an old standard of the theatre exceeds expectations. When the production turns out to be truly satisfying, it’s the sort of thing that can cause even the most acerbic to stroll out wearing a smile. And that’s the case with the Muny’s Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s not a shiny production. The village of Anatekva in pre-revolutionary Russia is poor. When the butcher is considered a real catch by the resident matchmaker, you know you’re among truly simple folk. The sets, by Robert Mark Morgan, seem simple (until you realize they’re being folded and unfolded) but that’s not the surprise to the eye. They’ve moved the orchestra to stage rear, emphasizing the music, and it’s a fine, logical move. After all, the rooftop fiddler, Andrew Crowe, is the first person we see, and he continues to appear through the show. The colors are mostly drabbed down in Amy Clark’s costumes – but they move. Oh, how they move. Watch the women’s skirts in the dance numbers.
The satisfaction comes from deeper than that. Michael McCormick’s Tevye is so warm he almost glows. His chats with his dear friend, the Almighty, are affectionate, even when he isn’t getting what he wants, which, of course, is most of the time. He carries his poverty with some grace and clearly loves his five, count ‘em, five daughters. About the only time he gets testy is with his wife, Golde (Anne L. Nathan), who is the ramrod of this outfit. Golde has some of the best lines in the show and Nathan shows them off to fine advantage, making Golde less of a shrew than is sometimes the case.
It’s the combination of a pending pogrom and his daughters’ marriages that create the story line here. Tzeitel (Haley Bond), the eldest, may end up with the butcher Lazar Wolf (Peter Van Wagner) – and why is he the only character in the play with two names? - but she’s actually in love with her childhood friend, Motel (Alan Schmuckler, showing considerable not-a-nebbish talent), a poor tailor. The next oldest, Hodel (Briana Carlson-Goodman) is wooed by a wandering scholar-revolutionary, Perchik (the zippy Marrick Smith). The middle girl, Chava (Carly Blake Sebouhian), is gently pursued by a Russian soldier (Colby Dezelick), a Gentile. When she doesn’t scorn him, this may be the last straw for Tevye. All three of the daughters sound wonderful in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”.
This is clearly a strong season for dance at the Muny, and in Fiddler, it’s the men who get a chance to show off, with Cossack-ish moves and the trademark bottle dance. Great fun, and proof that spangles are not required when it comes to dazzling a Muny audience.
Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist for the show, is coming in Tuesday night to be inducted into the Muny Hall of Fame and to hear one of his songs that will be performed in the stage version of the show for the first time. “Any Day Now” is the first song in the second act, sung by Perchik, and it’s, not surprisingly, quite lovely.
There’s a great story about the show from Dennis Brown’s notes in the program, which are always worth reading. When the show opened in Tokyo in the 1970s, Joseph Stern, the librettist, was approached at intermission by a young man who asked if he was affiliated with the show. Yes, said the librettiist. Was the show really a hit in America, asked the young man. Indeed it was, replied Stern, who went on to ask why the young man was inquiring, didn’t he like the show?. “The young man”, writes Brown, “was taken aback by the query. ‘Of course I like it’, he said. ‘But it’s so Japanese.’”
“Tradition”, one of the other signature songs from the show, opens the first act. And in any society with tradition (like, say, St. Louis), the show speaks to everyone.
Fiddler on the Roof
through August 5