Review: Fiddler on the Roof

Cast of Fiddler on the Roof                                                                                               Photo by Joan Marcus

By Larry Laneer
September 26, 2019

Some scholars say Fiddler on the Roof is as close to perfection as anyone has come in musical theater. The timelessness of this 1964 musical comes through in the production now playing at the Thelma Gaylord, presented by OKC Broadway. I hope the show causes you to think.

Directed by Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Hofesh Shechter, this is the touring version of a production that played to some acclaim on Broadway three years ago. Sher is one of our leading theatrical directors. I don’t think any of his previous productions have played here.

With book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler boasts one of the great scores with such standards as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “To Life,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and my favorite, “Miracle of Miracles.”

Set early in the last century, the show focuses on Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman in the Russian shtetl Anatevka, a place where tradition is everything. But modernity begins creeping into the village—socially, politically, and even mechanically. By the end of the show, the czar will expel the Jews of Anatevka from the district where they’ve lived for generations.

Tevye is one of musical theater’s signature characters, and actors playing him take their place in a long line (the great Zero Mostel created the role in the original Broadway production). In this production, the Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov gives a pleasing, if not commanding, performance as Tevye. He won over the opening-night audience. As Tevye’s wife, Maite Uzal does give a commanding performance, but that’s written into the role.

Running nearly three hours, the show features solid singing and acting by the cast of more than 30. Playing the daughters, Ruthy Froch (as Hodel) and Noa Luz Barenblat (as Chava) stand out among equals. Nic Casaula as Perchik, the budding revolutionary, and Nick Siccone as Motel, the tailor, give appealing performances.

The designers also did the Broadway version. Catherine Zuber’s sharp costumes are understated and authentic-looking in rich earth tones. The set design by Michael Yeargan consists of a backdrop and flat wings depicting gray, painted bricks. In fact, much of the set looks painted. Other set pieces and props fly in or roll on stage to flesh out the show’s many scene changes.

A fine ten-piece pit band, including brass and reeds, accompanies the show. The klezmer-style clarinet playing of Andrew Clark is outstanding.

Sher cleverly frames the story in the present. At the beginning and end of the show, a man in modern dress reads a book, the Sholom Aleichem stories on which Fiddler is based. In the final scene, as they pack their meager belongings, several Anatevka denizens say they will go to America. As we know, America welcomed these huddled masses, if not unconditionally, at least, they weren’t turned away at the border. Today, people flee their countries under abject circumstances or even death threats to come to America. How are we treating them now? Think about that next time you go to the polls.

Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music), and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics)
7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, through September 29
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.