Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Fiddler on the Roof

Over at the gorgeous Broadway Theatre we have another revival of a beloved classic.  I've seen a prior revival - the Alfred Molina production last in NYC. This time around we have Bartlett Sher led revival staring the usually indomitable Danny Burstein (Tevye).

Of course, a revival usually has to add its own take on the style or material.  This revival (in one of the most opulent theaters on Broadway, by the way) choose to employ relatively minimalist sets (most flew in and out) and few props on quite a large empty stage which was alternatively lit up bright for the company and focus spot lit for individual characters.  There was a large hole downstage that supposedly allowed the orchestra and the lush Jerry Bock score waft into the cavernous theater.  Unfortunately that hole served no purpose since the orchestra sounded like it was a rag time band stuffed in a tight box with a microphone that artificially amplified it throughout the theater.   (As a side note, the very cavernous Broadway Theatre curtained off the rear mezzanine to reduce the size of the actual seated theater.  It struck me that I have seen shows here before when the entire theater was full - and this revival clearly new it just couldn't draw such a large audience from the start).

Now as for the classic tale - Mr. Sher chose to begin and end the show with Danny (presumably Tevye's contemporary heir) in a modern blood red winter jacket reading a story from a book which is presumably Tevye and His Daughters which is the actual basis for this play.  Now, not a word was changed but the feel for the opening was flat, uninteresting, as he was literally reading the book to us as he started the tale of this famed musical which leads to the opening number, Tradition.  Interesting choice, but it didn't capture me.   As we get further into the show Mr. Burstein continued to fail at capturing my imagination.  He was too nice, too nebbish, to tentative.  and generally not a bold Tevye.  A great voice, but not deep and booming.  He certainly had moments of brilliance but they were few and far between.  His wife, Goldie, (Jessica Hecht) was equally unsatisfying.  She was too mean, too stern, and not likable,  When we got all the way to Do you Love Me, I was relatively certain that the answer was "No".  Of course the company filled in the blanks along the way - plenty of dancing, hand clapping and foot stomping in classic style.   However, Tevye's Dream and the entire scene seemed to me to be an odd pastiche of monsters straight out of Lord of the Rings.  Of special note (mostly because nobody else earned it), Motel the tailor (Adam Kantor) was a bright spot to the evening having energy, commitment to the part, and a great stage presence as well as a voice anyone would be jealous of.  The 5 daughters, Tzeitel (Alexandra Silber), Hodel (Samantha Massell), Chava (Melanie Moore), Shprintze (Jenny Rose Baker), and Bielke (Hayley Feinstein) were all competent yet bland.   Yes, I felt their betrayals, but just wasn't sold on the consequences.  Even Yenta the matchmaker (Alix Korey) felt too Brooklyn Jewish - which meant she got the audience laughs but wasn't as true to the character as she could be.  Oye!

The only star this evening in the theatre was Jerry Bock's score itself - lush and lovely as ever, we know more of these tunes than almost any other musical out there - Tradition, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, If I were a Rich Man, To Life, Sunrise Sunset, Do You Love Me, and Anatevka.  I felt this show eerily resembled the happening of today in the world with the Syrian refugee crisis and similar societal events.  With the show opening and closing the way it did, perhaps that was what Mr. Sher was going for.  I'm glad I had a really cheap ticket.  It minimized the length of my utter disappointment in this production.