SALT LAKE CITY — As I looked over the season for the Broadway across America productions at the Eccles Theater, there were many shows that I was interested in. But the one that I wanted to make sure that I saw above all the others was Fiddler on the Roof with original direction by Bartlett Sher and direction recreated by Sari Ketter. Fiddler on the Roof, with book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, has long been one of my top five favorite musicals. It is the perfect blend of drama and humor and is one of the more realistic stories in the musical theater world. Based on the Sholem Aleichem stories, Fiddler On the Roof is about Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman in 1905 Russia. Tevye, a father of five daughters, is a devout Jew in the village of Anatevka. Tradition is exremely important to him and his Jewish community, but Teyve’s traditions are changing thanks to his three oldest daughters.
As I studied the playbill before the show began, I was excited to see that many of the cast had Jewish heritage or ties to Israel. There seems to be a big push to include a variety of nationalities in theater productions right now and to not cast according to ethnicity where possible. While I have no problem with casting a variety of ethnicity, I was glad to see that this particular production was able to include people who share a heritage connection to the characters they are portraying. It made the characters they were portraying naturally have an extra layer of depth.
Yehezkel Lazarov played Tevye. Lazarov’s voice wasn’t as rich as some other Tevye performances I have seen, and it took me a little time before I connected to him. However, I don’t think this was Lazarov’s fault, but perhaps from my own personal biased love of the show. Lazarov completely won me over in his delivery of his line, “For a man with a slow tongue, he talked a lot.” From that moment, I was sold. Lazarov’s comedic timing made for so many great moments, such as his leaning in for a kiss at the end of, “Do You Love Me?” Comedic timing was not Lazarov’s only strong point. My heart broke and tears flowed freely during, “Chavaleh.” When a performer can win over a skeptic, the performer has certainly done their job well.
Golde, played by Maite Uzal, is matter-of-fact and down-to-business. Golde is a hard worker who doesn’t tolerate nonsense. Uzal plays it well throughout the whole show so that when Tevye asks if Golde loves him, it’s a perky distraction that makes Golde stop and contemplate her life. When Golde looses Chava, it is realized that her character isn’t just about marrying her daughters off but is rather about wanting the best for them.
Yente, the matchmaker, (played by Carol Beaugard) swipes an apple every time she is in Golde’s house, but in the end there is a basket of apples on stage. Yente shares one apple before walking off with the rest of the basket, which is a sign of love, because she is giving something she loves to Golde. There were moments where Beaugard’s cadence made her lines feel very rehearsed.
The song, “Matchmaker,” was a slower tempo than I’ve previously experienced. It did help me catch every lyric better than before, but I would have liked just a slightly faster tempo to perhaps increase the sense of fun between the sisters. My favorite vocal moment during this performance was the ending chord of this song. The three sisters hit it dead on, and it was an incredible blend and sound.
Tzeitel (Kelly Gabrielle Murphy) truly understood the weight of the matchmaker’s influence. Murphy did an excellent job at keeping Tzeitel mature as she approached her father about not wanting to marry Lazar Wolf (played by Jonathan Von Mering). Tzeitel’s maturity and strength contrasted nicely in the beginning with Motel, played by Nick Siccone. Motel does well at being a cowering, scared little boy who steps up into manhood. Motel goes from hiding under the cart to standing up for himself and “beginning to talk like a man.”
Hodel, played by Ruthy Froch, had a cadence in the first act that felt odd. Perhaps it was a little sing-song at moments, but it didn’t sound completely natural. I didn’t notice an unnaturalness to her cadence during the second act, and her performance of, “Far From the Home I Love,” was strong and believable.
I loved the simplicity of this set design by Michael Yeargan. It wasn’t overly flashy or colorful. The wooden textures, on exteriors of buildings, were like old, naturally-aged barn wood. There was little color in the majority of the set with the exception of the sunset backdrop. This monotone color felt appropriate to the time period and mood of the production.
The light design by Donald Holder for this production did extremely well at highlighting the sharp hand movements during the choreography of the opening number, “Tradition.” It also made a striking finish in the final number of “Anatevka.” There was one light that was shining into a portion of the audience’s eyes during the dream scene that I’m not sure was on purpose. It was highly distracting and prevented me from clearly seeing what was happening on stage.
The costume choice (design by Catherine Zuber) during the dream sequence was interesting. The visiting dead all had elongated fingers. It did help to separate out the living from the dead, but it wasn’t my favorite. It was particularly distracting on Fruma-Sarah (played by Kelly Glyptis). There was also a use of masks during this scene that felt more appropriate and less distracting. The long fingers did serve its purpose and perhaps matched Golde’s description of an evil spirit.
Choreography (recreated by Christopher Evans) for this production felt natural. The bar scene especially showed a distinctiveness to the separate cultures of the Jews and the Russians, but it also showed how the two cultures could meld together. The amazing vocal performance of Sam McLellan as Sasha added a unique element to this scene. McLellan’s attention-catching voice was wonderful as the Russians began to interact with the Jews. I also enjoyed that during the bottle dance at the wedding the third dancer dropped his bottle. It made the dance more believable. In the ending dance, following the bows, I felt a strong urge to join in the dancing. I love the traditional dance movements used and how the choreography is still inspired by the original choreography by Jerome Robbins.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoy this production of Fiddler on the Roof. It was nice to attend a solid traditional production that was down-to-earth and not over-the-top flashy. I could enjoy the story, the music, and the choreography without being distracted by special effects and glitz. This production is an excellent choice for theater lovers who enjoy a more traditional production.