Presented by New Rep Theatre
Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem
By special permission of Arnold Perl
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Music direction by Wade Russo
Choreographed by Kelli Edwards
Trigger warning: Patriarchy, arranged marriage, lack of personhood
Review by Kitty Drexel
New Rep’s Fiddler On the Roof is an extraordinary production… With one not inconsiderable snag. Largely, the performances in this show are spectacular. This production doesn’t make up for New Rep’s lackluster musicals but it certainly resets the standard for its productions. The cast and crew have delivered to us something very special with this Fiddler.
Fiddler On the Roof is about a man who grapples with his daughters’ radical independence while his community prepares for residential expulsion. Tevye (Jeremiah Kissel) is a good but poor man of God living in Anatevka, Russia in 1905. He has five daughters. Three of them want to get married immediately. His wife Golde (Amelia Broome) is enthusiastic. Tevye is less so. Meanwhile, Russian (christian) soldiers police the village, and harass the Jewish population. Genocide is coming. The violence comes to a head at the wedding of Tzeitel (Abby Goldfarb) and Motel, the tailor (Patrick Varner).
Bock and Harnick created a gorgeous score. The cast makes it sound gorgeous. The folk harmonies are glorious in the theater. The ensemble’s diction is crisp, their cutoffs clean. The character work en masse is well executed. Good job, everyone!
Kissel’s performance as Tevye leaves me speechless. He is excellent. He’s exceptional for Boston; he would be exceptional for Broadway. Please go see this production to watch Kissel disappear into this impassioned performance.
Broome is a balanced, nuanced Golde to Kissel’s Tevye. She is his foil, and his partner. “Do You Love Me?” was relatable and funny. Their back and forth create a beautifully crafted relationship.
All elements of the design indicate greatness. From the invisible sound work by Lee Schuna to the truthful costumes by Kathleen Doyle, the village of Anatevka came to life on the New Rep’s stage. Stephen Dobay’s set even smelled right.
The execution of the role of the Fiddler (Dashiell Evett) as symbol in Fiddler On the Roof does not work. Evett is not costumed to look like the Jewish villagers in Anatevka. Rather, he looks like one of the Russian soldiers. It is implausible that Tevye imagine the physical manifestation of his spiritual burdens and joys to look like one of his people’s antagonists.
Instruments are expensive. They are expensive even now, a time when it is easier than ever to make them. A fiddle in 1905, even a poor one, would be a cherished, very expensive possession. The fiddle used onstage is not real, but the Fiddler would not know that. The character would treat the instrument like the invaluable property that it is: the instrument would be in a case when it wasn’t being used, not cavalierly flung over a shoulder; the bow would be treated with respect, and held correctly. If the Fiddler is a metaphor for God/tradition, then the fiddle deserves even more respect for its symbolic value. It isn’t, and that takes away from the world of show.
Stanley Silverman is an excellent violinist. He serves the production very well. Unfortunately, Evett was not often with Silverman during the violin solos. This was distracting, and difficult to watch.
Near the end of the musical, the Constable tells Tevye that his soldiers are only following orders when they harass the village, and destroy property. Genocide truly begins when the implementers of violence choose to say yes instead of no. Sanctioned hate is still hate. It is still wrong. The Pale of Settlement in Russia began with enforced resettlement of the Jews. The resettlement ended in WWI. It is not such a stretch that the enforced deportation of immigrants in America would end the same way.
We have elected a tangerine ass-bugle bigot with scrawny hands, thin skin, and terrible hair to the office of the President. The theatre community has every reason to be scared that the national budget for the arts will be slashed. It will be. Certain republicans tend to disrespect experimental, avant-garde, or simply new art. If it challenges the white, straight, hetero status quo, they tend to be against it. New things frighten them with their difference. Belts will need to be tightened. For the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating your art despite this painful bullshit. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. Please keep fighting the good fight. – KD
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