The new Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which comes just a year after the beloved musical’s 50th anniversary, is the opposite of the 2004 Broadway revival in virtually every way, which is very good news.
The 2004 production, which starred Alfred Molina and was staged by English director David Leveaux, was uncomfortably downbeat and lacking in ethnic authenticity. In other words, the joyfulness and Jewishness were noticeably absent.
Bartlett Sher, the director behind the acclaimed Lincoln Center revivals of “South Pacific” and “The King and I,” respects the material while enlivening it. The scenes are staged with acute sensitivity, while a full orchestra plays the timeless score.
The opening sequence is somewhat new. Danny Burstein, dressed in modern attire, is apparently looking to retrace his ancestry. As he recites Tevye’s opening lines (“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no?“), the shtetl community, like a ghost being summoned back, comes forward and breaks into “Tradition.” The fiddler also flies, a la Peter Pan.
At the very end, Burstein examines the final tableau of residents leaving Anatevka in exodus, no doubt intended to evoke the European refugee crisis and draw parallels between then and now.
Less successful is the spare visual design, in which two-dimensional, floating pieces of scenery are pitted against a gray brick wall, as if to explicitly remind us that we are watching a show.
Rather than recreate the original Jerome Robbins dance choreography, full-bodied new movement from Hofesh Shechter is used that still retains the Robbins flavor.
Burstein, a Broadway favorite, is a loving, thoroughly likable, deeply felt Tevye, who brings humor without being broad. He has great chemistry with Jessica Hecht as Tevye’s wife Golde. Alexandra Silber, Samantha Massell and Melanie Moore are all radiant as daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava.
Bottom line: Except for the questionable design, this is a superb production of one of the greatest musicals of all time with an exceptional cast.