In Topol’s “farewell tour” re-creating his 1971 pic triumph “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 73-year-old thesp possesses all the stamina of Anatevka’s young whippersnappers and easily doubles their warmth and technique. Much of the revival in a three-week stop at the Pantages is more kitsch than kosher, but anyone who’s never seen “Fiddler” live should consider experiencing this Tevye, one of those star turns people talk about for years afterward.
Leaner and frailer now, Topol has lost no measure of authority as the long-suffering dairyman trying to keep a handle on traditional ways in the face of the next generation’s pressure. That supple, lightly accented voice remains comfortable with Old Testament pontification in the bottom register while swooping up to falsetto to tease his daughters (it’s a funnier performance by far than the film’s).
Most remarkably, the 1991 Tony nominee sustains in each scene the “illusion of the first time,” notwithstanding about 40 years’ worth of touring and numbing repetition. This Tevye confidently wields the reins of “Fiddler’s” pathos.
The star’s ineffable authenticity has not rubbed off on everyone else. Of the sons-in-law, Eric Van Tielen’s Fyedka is easy and natural, but Erik Liberman (Motel) and Colby Foytik (Perchik) indicate their traits — agitation and sanctimony, respectively — rather than inhabiting them. Susan Cella’s Golde is a stock scold with little vocal or emotional chemistry with her husband, while Mary Stout’s deeply felt Yente the matchmaker misses the comic self-delusion ordinarily copping guaranteed laughs.
Notable is David Brummel’s subtly etched Lazar Wolf, often played as a drooling brute but here a plausible marriage alternative for eldest daughter Tzeitel (Rena Strober, who breaks the heart as she begs Papa for her freedom).
Ear-splitting overamplification undercuts the proceedings in two ways. So overpowering to the lyrics is David Andrews Rogers’ orchestra, one can actually pick out each instrument’s part in every number. (Daughter Hodel’s “Far From the Home I Love” is beautifully handled by Jamie Davis at the railroad station, but the kickoff bass note sounds as if she’s waiting for a steamship.) And the Anatevkans in song might as well be the Red Army Chorus — stirring, but inimical to the sense of a tiny village teetering on the precipice of history.
Steve Gilliam’s sets lack distinction, and Tony Ray Hicks’ off-the-rack clothes are in urgent need of distressing, but Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz’s lighting manages to set the requisite moods. And while shuffling the cast around efficiently, helmer Sammy Dallas Bayes outdoes himself in reproducing Jerome Robbins’ choreography, still a breathtaking blend of Broadway pizzazz and folk ecstasy.