Review: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

This is the way revivals should be: Good production values, top talent and a director who inspires energy and drive. "Fiddler on the Roof," with Theodore Bikel, shows those who've missed the show over the last 30 years why it's a perennial, and gives those who have seen it a reason to see it again.

This is the way revivals should be: Good production values, top talent and a director who inspires energy and drive. “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Theodore Bikel, shows those who’ve missed the show over the last 30 years why it’s a perennial, and gives those who have seen it a reason to see it again.

Based on short stories by Sholom Aleichem (pen name for Yiddish humorist Solomon Rabinowitz), “Fiddler on the Roof” takes place in Anatevka, a small village in Russia, in 1905, on the eve of the Russian Revolution.

Jewish peasant Tevye (Bikel) tries to scratch out a living as a dairyman for his wife, Golde (Rebecca Hoodwin), and five daughters while travails and pogroms test his faith in both God and tradition.

Most people will recognize nearly every song (“Tradition,””Matchmaker, Matchmaker,””Sunrise, Sunset,”) even if they have never seen the play or the 1971 movie. Jerry Bock’s music remains evocative; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, a little less so.

Director Sammy Dallas Bayes, basing his work on Jerome Robbins’ original direction and choreography, shows the emotion behind the words, and his pacing keeps this nearly three-hour musical brisk.

The only weakness here is the anti-climactic ending.

The choreography is exuberant in such scenes as the dance in the bar, Tevye’s dream and Tzeitel’s wedding, scenes where lesser productions often fail.

Bikel imbues Tevye with self-deprecating humor and optimism, creating a sturdy and commanding presence.

His perf shows real affection for the role, even though he has logged in, at the end of the Pantages’ opening night, 1,200 performances.

Golde’s quest for rich husbands for her daughters is constantly compromised by her daughters’ wishes and Tevye’s actions.

Although Hoodwin doesn’t effuse the kind of charisma Lainie Kazan did in the same role on last May’s tour, which stopped briefly in Pasadena, she has a rich, warm singing voice.

As the older daughters, Joanna Glushak, Michele Ragusa and Stacey Lynn Brass are aptly torn between their parents’ desires and their own tradition-breaking impulses. Ragusa offers strength and a wide range in her singing voice, making a departure scene at a train station particularly evocative.

The rest of the cast, with their sure voices and impeccable timing, lend the production polish. John Preece’s Lazar Wolf, Daniel C. Cooney’s Perchik and James Kall’s Motel are notable.

Sound designer Mark Cowburn, using hidden mikes for the players, achieves the right balance for the Pantages’ cavernous space.

The set design, uncredited, may not be lavish, but the quickly movable backdrops are effective and render the village with color.

Michael Bottari and Ronald Case’s costumes are appropriate, as is Steve Cochrane’s light design.

Fiddler on the Roof

Pantages Theatre, Hollywood; 2,700 seats; $45 top

Production

Robert Young, Nicholas C. Litrenta and Gregory Young present, in a Los Angeles Civic Light Opera presentation, a musical in two acts with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein; based on stories by Sholom Aleichem; directed and choreographed by Sammy Dallas Bayes, reproducing original direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins.

Creative

Musical director, Sheilah Walker; costumes, Michael Bottari, Ronald Case; lighting, Steve Cochrane; sound design, Mark Cowburn. Opened, reviewed Jan. 18, 1995; runs through Jan. 29. Running time: 2 hours, 50 min.

Cast

Tevye - Theodore Bikel
Golde - Rebecca Hoodwin
Tzeitel - Joanna Glushak
Hodel - Michele Ragusa
Chava - Stacey Lynn Brass
Yenta - Chevi Colton
Perchik - Daniel C. Cooney
Motel - James Kall
Lazar Wolf - John Preece
Mordcha - David Masters
Fyedka - Bruce Alan Johnson
With: Terry Kaye, Elisa Sagardia, Jerry Matz, Robert Frisch, Frank Anderson, Robert T. Miller, Stas Kmiec, Nick Rafello, Holly Evers, Michael J. Farina, T. Doyle Leverett, Gary John La Rosa, Lyn Vaux, Elaine Grollman, Lynn Halverson, Erik Chechak, Debra Cardona, John McDermott, Miriam Shor, Dennis R. St. Pierre, Arthur Atkinson.
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