For this week — but only until Sunday, Oct. 28 — you can stop by the Academy of Music and meet Tevye, the world's most famous milkman, as director Bartlett Sher takes his dynamic Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof on national tour. Using a new cast of stars, you will see why his show was a Tony nominee, full of vibrant dance numbers and striking special effects.
Of course, productions of Fiddler live or die with Tevye. Here, veteran Israeli film star Yehezkel Lazarov fills the bill. A vital man of shifting moods, Tevye's unceremonious entreaties to God give the musical its humor, and Lazarov's singing is an impeccable match of song and dance with the dramatic moment.
His Tevye is an embattled man, tested within and without by two oddly opposed forces: czarist persecution and Western romantic love. Consigned to the village of Anatevka in the Russian Imperial Pale, Tevye lives in constant threat of pogrom, but three plucky daughters also threaten his traditional beliefs.
Defying both Tevye and a quirky yente (Carol Beaugard), Tzeitel (Mel Weyn) marries for love. Then Hodel (Ruthy Froch) elopes with a political radical, and Chava (Natalie Powers) runs away with a gentile. ("She is dead to me," says beaten-down Tevye.) Jaundiced wife Golde (finely understated Maite Uzal) is a different sort of challenge.
The score is stirring, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Some songs — "Sunrise, Sunset" and "If I Were a Rich Man" — have become standalone classics. But Joseph Stein's book, based on the short stories of Sholem Aleichem, is draggy and episodic.
Director Sher comes to the rescue. His surreal stagecraft in "Tevye's Dream" is haunting. Late in the show he uses scrim curtains to create eerie, almost cinematic effects that blur the line between fantasy and reality. Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter enlivens the show with Jewish folk dance genres. The inclusion of Jerome Robbins' "Bottle Dance" sequence tosses Broadway razzmatazz into the mix. The effect is so captivating you overlook the anachronism of such eclecticism popping up in "traditional" Anatevna.
In the original 1964 Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, Hal Prince watered down Tevye's suffering, fearing Aleichem's stories were too grimly Jewish for American audiences. Fiddler had its detractors. (Philip Roth famously called it "shtetl kitsch.") But director Sher stays loyal to Prince's viewpoint. His major innovation lies in how he frames the tale, having Tevye in modern red parka dress open and close Aleichem's book to begin and end the musical, suggesting unbreakable tradition.