In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the new Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Here’s an excerpt.
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How often should a classic musical be revived on Broadway? In the case of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which has just opened there for the sixth time since 1964, it’s hard not to wonder whether a point of diminishing returns might possibly be drawing nigh. “Fiddler” is a marvelous show, but the last revival, directed by David Leveaux and starring Alfred Molina, dates from 2004, and it was a fine one, both fresh and faithful. Granted, Bartlett Sher’s new version sports an even more impressive star turn by Danny Burstein, plus new dances by Hofesh Shechter, an Israeli-born modern-dance choreographer. All interesting, all promising—but do we really need another “Fiddler”? Now that I’ve seen this one, my answer is…maybe.
Mr. Sher, as always, has found his own way into “Fiddler,” taking a tack that owes nothing to Jerome Robbins’ original 1964 staging or any other version of which I’m aware, and I was sure for the first 15 minutes or so that I’d be writing a review as enthusiastic as the one I wrote of his letter-perfect Lincoln Center Theater revival of “The King and I.” But no: This production, intelligent and imaginative though it is, falls short of the mark…
We first see Mr. Burstein in modern dress on an empty stage, reading a book as he waits for a train. Then a shadowy house with a fiddler perched precariously on the roof is slowly lifted into view. Mr. Burstein shifts as if by magic into Orthodox Jewish garb and the stage fills with villagers. As the fiddler and the roof fly into the rafters and the cast strikes up “Tradition,” we see (or think we see) the bare brick walls of the stage itself. And as everyone starts speaking in accents indistinguishable from those you might hear on a present-day New York streetcorner, you get it: This is an “Our Town”-like “Fiddler on the Roof.” It’s also the most American-sounding “Fiddler” I’ve ever seen, and that’s the point: It is as if we are watching the Americanized descendants of the Jews of Anatevka retell the tales their great-grandparents told about shtetl life in 19th-century Russia….
But as the evening progressed, I realized, very much to my surprise, that I wasn’t feeling the intense emotions that by all rights ought to be stirred up by “Fiddler.” It is, after all, a musical about deadly serious matters, starting with the bloody pogrom that breaks up the wedding of Tevye’s daughter and ending with the forced emigration of every Jew in Anatevka. Such things ought to make us weep—and in this production, they don’t….
Mr. Sher has throttled back the feelings too far. One feels distant from his “Fiddler,” neatly framed as it is by the vaulting proscenium arch of the 1,761-seat Broadway Theatre, which is too big for the show….
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Read the whole thing here.
Scenes from a rehearsal for the new Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof: