With images of the migrant caravan fresh in my mind from today’s news, the relevance of this revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the Academy of Music for just this week, was obvious: families shlepping their meager possessions out of the little shtetl Anatekva after a Tsarist pogrom and over the infamous bridge into Mexico escaping the latest version of human cruelty and misery; either way it is a testimony to the enduring spirit expressed in one of Fiddler’s best-loved songs, “To Life.”
Bartlett Sher who directed the 2016 Broadway production had the brilliant notion to frame the original Jerome Robbins show with a contemporary person who is, wordlessly, consulting a guidebook as he traces his ancestry back to Anatekva. (And just to get odious comparisons out of the way, this touring production is very enjoyable but it lacks the impact and warmth and depth of character of that gorgeous New York show.)
The book by Joseph Stein, the music by Jerry Bock and the lyrics by Sheldon Harnick tell the story of a poor milkman, Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov) and his overworked wife (Maite Uzal) and their five daughters who will challenge the tradition of the Papa’s authority and choose their own husbands. “Tradition,” one of the score’s best songs, is the central issue—things change. One thing that doesn’t change is the farklempt power of one of its best songs, “Sunrise, Sunset”—if you have children you’ll be choked up with emotion and misty-eyed, which is to say, farklempt.
The terrific choreography by Christopher Evans based on the original by Hofesh Shechter gives us both the thrill of a big show-biz production number and, simultaneously, the feeling of authenticity, as if as a tourist you’d luckily stumbled into a village wedding or a bar where men dance competitively. This is a cast of balletic and athletic dancers who are a knockout.
[Academy of Music, Broad & Locust Streets] October 23-28, 2018; kimmelcenter.org