Steeped in Tradition, DPAC's "Fiddler on the Roof" is Still Relevant and Engaging
Fiddler on the Roof has been considered a classic since its debut in 1964. Despite its place in the theatrical canon, however, it is not a show frequently staged in the Triangle area, with theatregoers preferring the new, hip, and edgy. However, DPAC’s Suntrust Broadway production of the classic, directed by Bartlett Sher, proves that this story still has plenty of life in it, as well as timely messages about acceptance, tolerance, and freedom of faith, messages that are perhaps even more compelling in today’s world.
The story takes places in 1905 Russia and focuses on the Jewish people living in the small town of Anatevka. The main focus is on Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov), a poor milkman with five daughters and a demanding wife, Golde (Maite Uzal). Tevye does his best to take his hectic lifestyle in stride, talking to God when he needs to and relying heavily on old-school traditional ways, at least at first.
In fact, the large-scale opening number, aptly named “Tradition,” really sets the stage for the world Tevye and his brood live in. It is a world of arranged marriage, devoutly-practiced faith, and one in which every person has a pre-determined role to fulfill.
However, things quickly begin to change in this traditional world that has worked for Tevye for so long. The Tsar starts allowing violent demonstrations against the Jews, a student with “radical” ideas moves to town, and Tevye’s daughters begin bucking against tradition, pushing against the boundaries they have been raised with and against a world in which women are viewed as commodities to be traded and sold.
Though much of the subject matter is serious, there are still lighthearted moments to be found within this engaging script. Lazarov’s Tevye, for one, is hilarious and keeps the humor flowing throughout. His performance of “If I Were A Rich Man,” complete with all the right warbling and hand gestures, is one of the highlights of the show. In fact, everything Lazarov does in the production is perfect. His portrayal is so likeable and honest that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing the part so well.
Also adding humor to the story is Uzal’s staunch portrayal of Golde. Jesse Weil’s bumbling, nervous turn as Motel, a young man desperately in love with Tevye’s oldest daughter, also adds light to the production, as does Carol Beaugard’s spot-on performance as the gossiping matchmaker, Yente.
All of the characters, from minor to major, feel real, fleshed-out, and sympathetic, which is a big part of the reason for Fiddler’s long-term success. And, perfectly complementing the strong acting is Hofesh Shechter’s incredible, rousing choreography, which includes impressively authentic Russian dancing and is so bold and big that viewers will get wonderfully lost in it.
While, thanks to the music and the incredible characterization, the show is enjoyable, it is also heart-wrenching and deals with a difficult time in history, one in which people were faced with immense persecution just for practicing their faith and being who they are. Sadly, in a time where this issue still exists, the production serves as a reminder to be tolerant and open to change, if it’s in the name of love. On top of that, this is also a story of religion versus faith and of the growth and reconstruction that sometimes must happen in order to reconcile the two.
Beautifully and boldly done with stellar performances and plenty of heart, DPAC’s Fiddler on the Roof is a must-see for Triangle-area theatregoers.
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