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David Leveaux's new production of Fiddler on the Roof, the
beloved musical about a Russian milkman and the traditions that bind his family in
the tiny village of Anatevka, has garnered some unwarranted attention by the
press. Some recent criticism has implied that the show is not "Jewish"
enough or that Alfred Molina, one of the theater's great leading men, can't play Tevye
because he is not Jewish. Both claims are outrageous and unwarranted and are an
insult to working actors everywhere who each day transform themselves into characters from
all walks of life.
Leveaux has reconceived the show for the contemporary audience, doing away with unnecessary schtick and musical theater histrionics. Instead, he directs a show for all people, one with universal themes about love, family and finding one's self in a confusing and often cruel world. The breathtaking set design by Tom Pye underlines this theme. A large open space peppered with simple wooden furniture and barren trees is backed by a deep blue sky of twinkling stars, as if to point out that we are all part of the universe, each one of us small and insignificant yet part of a larger cosmos.
Molina is a refreshingly different Tevye. He avoids the overt Jewish stereotype and creates a fully human portrait, a milkman who is earthy, appealing and good-natured. Molina commands the stage with his magnetic presence and booming voice, but he wisely avoids drawing a broad caricature. The power of this performance lies in the smaller moments and quiet nuances. He is not afraid to step back and let a scene happen without chewing the scenery or running over the other actors. Molina is at his best when patiently waiting with Hodel at the train station or singing a good-bye to his disowned daughter in "Chavelah." But he can also bring it on with the best of them as evidenced when he dances vigorously and revels in the lively number, "To Life."
As Golde, the dependable Randy Graff is tough, full of sass and a terrific foil to Tevye. Her lovely singing voice nicely complements Molina's gruffer sound. Both performers are younger than their predecessors and this works in unexpected ways; "Do You Love Me?" takes on new meaning. It's easy to imagine the young couple they once were - now in their forties, a tough life has made them old souls before their time.
The three actresses playing the daughters, Sally Murphy, Laura Michelle Kelly and Tricia Paoluccio, are skilled and sing sweetly. Kelly stands out with her portrayal of the feisty, independent Hodel. However, it is the suitors to the three who almost steal the show. John Cariani's Motel is a joy to watch--a natural clown, his wiry frame and edgy voice provide perfect comic relief. Robert Petkoff's revolutionary Perchik is appropriately passionate, determined and hot-blooded. David Ayers shines as Fyedka, usually a thankless role.
While most revivals tend to show their age, Fiddler on the Roof holds up beautifully thanks to the delicate and intelligent direction by David Leveaux. He has created a memorable production that shows exactly why Fiddler is one of the theater's most enduring musical classics.
March 10, 2004 - Nella Vera