Fiddler on the Roof at Hennepin Theatre Trust
The word tradition can mean a multitude of things to a variety of people. Some may associate it with a holiday while others may with a specific time of the year. It’s a powerful word that can truly bring a multitude of emotions, both good and bad, for just about anyone. I think a majority of the time tradition is associated with happy memories and celebrating something. However what happens when traditions are challenged and they collide at the intersection of love, family, the changing times and faith? The Twin Cities saw it when the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof made their way to the Orpheum Theater.
Fiddler on the Roof is a classic musical that premiered on Broadway in 1964. Since then it has not slowed down, spawning countless revivals, high school productions, regional theatre productions and even a 1972 film adaptation. It originally won a total of nine Tony Awards and remains to be the seventeenth longest-running show in Broadway history.
The story is based on the tale Tevye and his Daughters by Sholem Aleichem. It takes place at the turn of the 20th century and centres around Tevye, who is the father of five daughters. Tevye and his family live a modest Jewish lifestyle in the village of Anatevka in Imperial Russia. As his three oldest daughters grow older, the question of when will they marry is constantly on each other's mind. While in their faith it is a tradition that the father picks their husband, sometimes set up by a matchmaker, the three each have plans of their own as they try to set themselves up and challenge the ways they were raised.
This musical could not have come at a more perfect time. This piece of musical theatre canon is just as relevant as it was when it premiered, maybe even more. The story challenges the ideals that sometimes a younger generation can grow up and know what’s best for themselves versus having an older generation tell them. It does beg the question with can this show survive in a #MeToo era.
As the show began, a sense of familiarity is swept across the audience. For many it was one of the most popular songs to ever hit musical theatre and for some it was the first time hearing it in full. I was the latter of the two and yet it still felt familiar. The golden age of musical theatre was performing before my very eyes and it was magnificent to see with a top notch cast. The cast is tremendously talented and makes this nearly 60 year old show feel fresh, new and shiny.
This also may be due to the direction under Bartlett Sher who stated that he hoped the show was a universal story. No matter who is seeing this, there is an aspect that they can relate to within the struggles of their own family or friends. It’s not just that but also to show the depiction that we are all human. It shows that a Christian family in Minnesota can relate to this show in a very similar way to recently immigrated family from Mexico. We all share a very similar struggle or journey.
Another flair that adds a flair of modernism is the choreography by Hofesh Shechter. Shechter updates the classical and traditional moves. While I admit I was one of the first to stand at the curtain of this show, I wanted nothing more than to stand after the larger dance numbers. What Shechter creates on stage is magical to watch. Each dance seems loose and full of emotion while also showing massive amounts of precision. Also, seeing the infamous bottle dance is so much cooler in person than fuzzy recordings on Youtube.
The cast is the driving force of the show and are all giving exceptional performances, specifically each daughter. Tzeitel, is played by Mel Weyn, Hodel, played by Ruthy Froch, and Chava, played by Natalie Powers, are the three oldest daughters. Each shine in their own way but within the first half of the show they sing another memorable song “Matchmaker” which had many audience members swaying to the nostalgic tune. Their voices are beautiful, blend well and form a sisterhood bond that is apparent from the very start. I also want to highlight Jesse Weil, who plays Motel, the tailor. Weil is absolutely charming in this role along
Yehezkel Lazarov plays the lead Tevye and leads the cast with such professionalism. His stage presence is commanding and endearing at the same time. I was pleasantly surprised as to how humorous the show was and a large portion of that was thanks to Lazarov’s sides to the audience, comedic timing and even non-verbals. His performance also is what plays into why I think this show still works in the 21st century.
He is playing a father whose faith and tradition is being stretched thin because the changing society around him. What does he do when his devotion to that faith is being challenged by the undying love he has for his daughters? Lazarov navigates that journey and not only shows the audience but even takes us on the journey with him as he, as Tevye, makes each decision.
To refer back to a point I made earlier was asking if this musical could survive in the current political and social climate we are in now, specifically pertaining to the #MeToo movement. I am here to say that I think it can live in this era. The main reason is because the daughters who help their father see that change is ok and sometimes it’s for the better. While the show itself doesn’t end over the top happy, it still has a glimmering light of hope as each daughter marries the man they truly love.
While the plot deals mainly with Tevye and his family, there is another plot point that quickly unfolds near the beginning and leads up to the events at the end. The looming sense of dread lingers throughout the show as the characters have consistent run ins with the military of Imperial Russia. The soldiers, which one actually goes on to marry Tevye’s youngest, are intimidating the villagers until the end where they eventually kick them out. This is a theme that is very much alive and relevant today in which a minority culture is trying to live and coincide with the majority culture that differs from their own.
Fiddler on the Roof is not going anywhere anytime soon. The show is always a relevant story from the intersections of faith, love and family but also how the way of life for a minority group of people can completely shift when the majority intervenes. It’s a poignant look into this village that is eerily mirroring the society we live in today.
Fiddler on the Roof plays at the Orpheum theatre now through August 4.