Bartlett Sher loves the look of a big, bare stage, a canvas he can draw on. When one enters the giant Broadway Theatre, one sees a bare box painted light grey, decorated only with a sign "Anatevka." Occasionally the side wings rise to make way for scenery (designed by Michael Yeargan), but even then one is still aware of an expanse of stage behind and around it. Characters often enter by walking up stairs at the rear of the playing area, as if they are ascending out of some pit of basement. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is both a show about a coherent, tradition bound community, and about the people who assert their individuality. Women who defy tradition. Men who rebel. A patriarch who is also too much of a romantic. Sher's brilliant, if a bit chilly, revival emphasizes that this community isn't ever as coherent as some would have it. The dances that are so important to this show (the original Jerome Robbins choreography with additions and revisions by Hofesh Schecter), aren't as orderly as they were in the original production. There's more of a sense of improvisation, of individuals dancing.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is an odd show. It's more book heavy than most classic musicals, more a play with music. The music is nowhere near as inspired as Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's score for SHE LOVES ME, which opened the year before and just had a perfect revival a block away from the Broadway Theatre where FIDDLER is being performed. Sher's production avoids the show's pitfalls. It is never awash in sentiment. Most important, Tevye isn't played as a self-indulgent star turn as it was with Zero Mostel and some of his many successors. Danny Burstein, a performer of immense talent and integrity, makes Tevye a real character. There's no cheap schtick, the stock in trade of many Tevyes of yore. Some might miss that. The female comic leads are played straight, so straight that they barely seem to exists. Bea Arthur was the first Yente the matchmaker, but this Yente (Alix Korey) is played so straight that she hardly seems to be in a musical. I've never understood the critics' love for Jessica Hecht. Her Golde just seems depressed. Why is Tevye so frightened of her when she's so passive? The daughters and their boyfriends are well cast. Throughout there's an overriding sense of intelligence and taste. As much as I hate sloppy, self indulgent performances of FIDDER, I occasionally wanted some sense of "this is a musical, folks." I was in the second row and couldn't help wondering how it played in the far reaches of one of the biggest Broadway houses.
A mixed bag, but gorgeous to look at.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Broadway Theatre. July 30, 2016.