Story: Tevye the dairyman says that the Russian village of Anatevka, where he and his family live circa 1905, is steeped in tradition. Everyone in the family knows his or her place and everyone in the village is aware what is expected of them. The local constable, while referring to Tevye and his brethren as “Jewish dogs,” nonetheless leaves them pretty much to themselves.
Tevye and his wife Golde have been blessed with five daughters, three of whom are at the marrying age or fast approaching it. When Yente the matchmaker informs Golde that Lazar Wolf, the village’s wealthy butcher and a widower, would like to marry her oldest daughter Tzeitel, she and Tevye are pleased with the prospect of a well-to-do son-in-law, even if Tevye doesn’t care for Lazar and is nearly the same age.
Times are changing, though, even in Anatevka. Tzeitel wants to marry for love, not money, and encourages her friend since childhood, Motel the tailor, to ask her father for his permission for the two of them to marry. Later on, second daughter Hodel and her revolutionary friend Perchik ask only for Tevye’s blessing, not his permission. When middle daughter Chava, however, falls in love with a Gentile soldier named Fyedka, Tevye banishes her from the family.
Tevye observes that without tradition, his people’s lives are as precarious as the omnipresent “fiddler on the roof.” But for how long will those traditions last?
Highlights: Although this marks the 10th production of one of Broadway’s all-time great musicals at The Muny, it sounds as fresh and ingratiating as must surely have been the case for its premiere engagement back in 1970. With some clever staging and even the inclusion of a new tune, director Gary Griffin decidedly demonstrates why Fiddler on the Roof maintains its allure in this sparkling Muny version.
Other Info: Fiddler on the Roof garnered an impressive nine Tony Awards when it debuted in 1964, including Best Musical as well awards for choreography (Jerome Robbins), composer and lyricist (Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, respectively), book (Joseph Stein) and direction by the renowned Robbins. It ran for more than 3,200 performances to become the longest-running Broadway musical of all time until surpassed by Grease in the late ‘70s.
It’s been away from The Muny for eight years, the longest stretch since Fiddler first was performed on the massive outdoor stage in 1970. For this production, director Griffin includes the world stage premiere of Any Day Now, a tune written by Bock and Harnick for the 1971 film but dropped from the final version.
With Harnick’s permission, Any Day Now replaces Now I Have Everything, the familiar opening song to the musical’s second act. Reminiscent of Miracle of Miracles, the fetching tune delivered by Motel in Act I, the new tune is enchantingly sung by Perchik to Hodel outside her home. Harnick is visiting St. Louis to see the tune performed for the first time in the musical, and also will be inducted into The Muny’s Hall of Fame.
Another interesting element to this version is the placement of The Muny’s orchestra at the back of the stage. While it’s a bit jarring to see them beyond the traditional ‘pit’ in front, sacrificing the mystery of story-telling to a small degree in the process, it’s a bigger bonus to see The Muny’s expert musicians throw themselves whole-heartedly into Bock’s score under Brad Haak’s inspired musical direction.
Griffin also expertly employs the services of Andrew Crowe as the title character, strolling casually about the stage during several of the numbers, sometimes seeming to summon Tevye while at others keeping a detached distance. Inspired by several paintings by artist Marc Chagall for the show’s title, this version of Fiddler is richly enhanced by Crowe’s professionalism.
A very strong cast hits the heights singing and dancing to Bock’s infectious score, which features a cavalcade of hits that are diminished only slightly by the throwaway Rumor gossip number in Act II. Michael McCormick leads the performances with his commanding portrayal of the genial Tevye, accentuating his myriad comic moments, whether singing the buoyant If I Were a Rich Man or engaging in an amusing conversation with Lazar Wolf at the local pub.
Anne L. Nathan is delightful as Golde, giving as good as she gets with her sharp tongue and most engaging while responding to Tevye’s musical question, Do You Love Me?. Haley Bond, Briana Carlson-Goodman and Carly Blake Sebouhian all are outstanding as daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava, respectively, teaming winningly on the Matchmaker, Matchmaker number.
Their suitors are effectively portrayed by Alan Schmuckler as the tentative Motel, Marrick Smith as the fiery Perchik and Colby Dezelick as the gentle Fyedka, respectively. Nancy Opel does well as the busybody Yente as well as Lazar’s deceased wife Fruma-Sarah in Tevye’s comic dream sequence.
Peter Van Wagner handles the role of lonely butcher Lazar Wolf with equal parts bluster and sympathy, while Michael James Reed presents the Russian constable as stern and commanding but not without a smidgen of concern for his ‘friend’ Tevye.
Jerry Vogel is entertaining as the pub keeper Mordcha and Jeremy Lawrence is amusing as the feeble rabbi. Emma Resek and Elise Edwards make a fine pair as Tevye and Golde’s youngest daughters Shprintze and Bielke, respectively. Adam J. Levy, Randall Dodge and Gary Glasgow portray other minor characters nicely.
The Muny’s lively ensemble is a joy to watch as they engage in the ebullient choreography designed by Alex Sanchez, highlighted by the Bottle Dancers portion of the rousing To Life number featuring Thom Dancy, Brandon Fink, Zachary Daniel Jones and Todd Rhoades as well as the Russian dancers' contribution to the To Life piece with Michael Biren, Patrick Garr, Ben Lanham and Tanner Pflueger.
The ensemble also features the exuberant efforts of Stephanie Bissonnette, Polly Butler Cornelius, Lissa deGuzman, Sarah Goldrainer and local favorites Taylor Elizabeth Pietz, April Strelinger and Zoe Vonder Haar.
Griffin’s pacing is expert, aided by Sanchez’s exuberant dances and set before Robert Mark Morgan’s evocative scenic design. Rob Denton’s lighting beautifully highlights scenes such as the dream sequence or the affecting Sunrise, Sunset wedding number. There are fine contributions also by costume designer Amy Clark, wig designer John Metzner, video designer Nathan Scheuer and sound designers John Shivers and David Patridge.
You’re doubtless familiar with the beautiful music and the sobering story of Fiddler on the Roof. This latest incarnation at The Muny, however, exemplifies how this musical treasure shines as one of Broadway’s crown jewels.
Musical: Fiddler on the Roof
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through August 5
Tickets: Free to $90; contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Phillip Hamer and Eric Woolsey