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Fiddler on the Roof

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Fiddler on the Roof
At the
Minskoff Theatre
200 West 45th Street
A Nederlander Theatre

Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Choreography by Jerome Robbins

Presenting: Alfred Molina as Tevye
Nick Danielson as Fiddler
Randy Graff as Golde

Starring: Sally Murphy as Tzeitel, Laura Michelle Kelly as Hodel, Tricia Paoluccio as Chava, Lea Michele as Shprintze, Molly Ephraim Bielke, Nancy Opel as Yente the Matchmaker, David Wohl as Lazar Wolf, Yusef Bulos as the Rabbi, John Cariani as Motel, Robert Petkoff as Perchik, Stephen Lee Anderson as Constable, David Ayers as Fyedka, Haviland Stillwell as Grandma Tzeitel, and Joy Hermalyn as Fruma Sarah

Papas: Philip Hoffman, Mark Lotito, David Rossmer,
and Bruce Winant; Mamas: Barbara Tirrell, Marsha Waterbury, Rita Harvey, and Joy Hermalyn; Sons: Roger Rosen, Enrique Brown, Randy Bobish, Jeff Lewis, and Francis Toumbakaris; Daughters: Melissa Bohon and Haviland Stillwell; Nachum, the Beggar: Tom Titone; Boy: Michael Tommer; Russians: Jonathan Sharp, Stephen Ward Billeisen, Keith Kuhl, and Craig Ramsay; Bottle Dancers: Randy Bobish, Enrique Brown, Roger Rosen, Jeff Lewis, and Francis Toumbakaris.

Directed by David Leveaux
Music Director: Kevin Stites
Musical Staging: Jonathan Butterell
Set Design: Tom Pye
Costume Design: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Hair & Wig Design: David Brian Brown
Casting: Jim Carnahan
Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
Orchestrations: Don Walker
Additional Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
General Manager: 101 Productions, Ltd.
Press: Barlow*Hartman
Production Manager: Gene O’Donovan
Flying Sequences: ZFX, Inc.
Production Stage Manager: David John O’Brien
Producers: James M. Nederlander, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, Harbor Entertainment, Terry Allen Kramer, Bob Boyett/Lawrence Horowitz, and Clear Channel Entertainment

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 9, 2004

I, for one, think this re-creation of Fiddler on the Roof with its not so Jewish cast is incredible and fantastic on every level – visually, spiritually, musically, and, yes, ethnically! Up front, I will say that I am Jewish, and I dance at the Copacabana, so why shouldn't Alfred Molina, who played Diego Rivera in Frida, be welcomed as Tevye, the milkman, who is "everyman", the human condition, the survivor, who swallows his pride for the safety and happiness of his family and friends? I think David Leveaux is brilliant to have given a multi-ethnic audience an eclectic cast that exudes the essence of the Jewish, pre-revolutionary village of Anatevka, Russia in 1905. That essence is individual and communal survival in a rapidly changing culture and increasingly dangerous environment. That essence is also the rich, aesthetic beauty of Jewish traditions, dance, and music, a love of nature, and a struggle to come to grips with modernism in the form of personal independence.

Tom Pye's sets and Brian MacDevitt's lighting are exquisite and ethereal. Lovely lanterns hang from the rafters of the Minskoff, with tiny lights in onstage trees, autumn leaves in colorful heaps, and a large, angular roof. Precariously perched on this roof is the Fiddler, Nick Danielson, who curves his torso into a Chagall-like, Russian figure, that usually appears in Chagall's paintings as a silhouette, but now appears onstage in perfect form and outstanding sound. His lone violin additionally lightens this modern, ever-so-lovely and expansive, multi-level stage set. An additional visual effect is a moveable wall, stage left, which allows the Cossacks or Villagers to enter at various points in the production, with extreme lighting, like beams of sun through the woods.

In fact, light seems to be one metaphor throughout this new Fiddler production. "Let there be Light" refers to change and truth. The lanterns move, change, strengthen, darken, disappear, and re-appear, along with beams of staged natural light, tree light décor, intense dream light, and reflected shadows and silhouettes. Another metaphor is dance. In the wedding scene, the most progressive of Tevye's daughters dances what seems to be a Virginia Reel to classical dance music with her intended, a Jewish revolutionary and intellectual. Suddenly the entire wedding party breaks into partner dance, even Tevye and his wife, Golde, as well as his five daughters, friends, and relatives. All this, after the traditional bottle dance, with men in traditional hats down on their thighs and knees, to the vivacious traditional tunes that inspire such dances, and the wine bottles never fall from the large black hats. The Cossacks, too, performed their bravura dance in boots.

Each dance exuded its own style and its own illusion of ethnic spirit or modern convention. There was love and togetherness, as Golde and Tevye held each other's hands to the flow of the gypsy tunes. Dance and light - two metaphors for hope, love, and survival. All this, amidst the flickering lanterns that cast dancing shadows and amidst the dancing Cossacks and Jewish Villagers that literally lit up this very surreal stage. And, to complete the defense for the not so Jewish cast, the concepts of self-determination and inter-religious marriage that ensued between Tevye's eldest three daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava, would seem to create the possibility of an assimilated and eclectic cast that reflects this very philosophy of worldliness and sophistication.

The story of Fiddler on the Roof is about shtetls and pogroms in pre-revolutionary Russia, the control of the Villagers by the Russians, the waning powers of the Yente, a marriage-maker, as Tevye and Golde's three daughters "choose" husbands, each a more shocking scenario for the times, the respect and relationship between Tevye and Constable (who controls the interactions of his Russian soldiers), Tevye's loving and humorous relationship with Golde, a strong and sarcastic wife, the aborted betrothal of Tevye's eldest daughter to Lazar Wolf, the rich but boring, elderly butcher, the cruel "mischief" of the Cossacks at the end of Tzeitel's wedding to Motel the Tailor, and the ultimate banishment of the Villagers from Anatevka, as they pack for Krakow or Chicago.

Fiddler on the Roof is also about music and humor, and the Jewish humor survives well in this production, as Tevye consistently talks to his best friend and confidant, God. There are relative jokes, relationship jokes, age jokes, and even jokes about Tevye's wounded milk cow. There is a hilarious scene, the dream scene in bed, in which Tevye "pretends" to talk with Golde's grandmother in a dream, in order to inform Golde of Tzeitel's intended husband, the humble, fidgety tailor, Motel, rather than the arrogant, heavy, and quite wealthy butcher, Lazar Wolf. In this scene, some of the most imaginative theatre ever seen onstage was magnificently created by Vicki Mortimer's costumes, Tom Pye's sets, Brian MacDevitt's lighting, and David Brian Brown's wigs.

In fact, when I first arrived at the Minskoff tonight, I remarked to my guest, Dr. Henri Delbeau, that the sets and lighting reminded me of an outdoor production of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Lo and behold, during Tevye's dream sequence, a bevy of horse heads and sprites, Golde's flying grandma and Lazar Wolf's flying, deceased wife, from the misty grave, and even a flying daughter and flying tailor appeared in the nighttime blackness, including flowing red dresses and colorful wigs, and makeup and facial expressions that gave this scene an almost drag and very campy effect.

There's a level of Jewish humor throughout that sometimes seems very Jewish in inflection and sometimes very Jewish in meaning, such as self-deprecation, sarcasm, and other cultural innuendos. It's important to note that some operas may be Italian or German and feel Italian or German, but be sung and acted by a multitude of divas and tenors. In this case, Leveaux' Fiddler cast was well prepared for Jewish humor and innuendo. The messengers delivered the message just fine.

Fiddler on the Roof is also about music. Alfred Molina, Randy Graff (Golde), Nancy Opel (Yente), Sally Murphy, Laura Michelle Kelly, and Tricia Paoluccio (Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava), David Wohl (Lazar Wolf), John Cariani (Motel the Tailor), Robert Petkoff (Perchik, Hodel's Revolutionary Husband), David Ayers (Fyedka, Chava's Russian, non-Jewish husband), Haviland Stillwell (Grandma Tzeitel), and Joy Hermalyn (Fruma Sarah, Lazar Wolf's deceased wife) may not have had the most spirited or vibrant voices, but their less than virtuosic, vocal skills were far outweighed by their very human performance skills.

Plus, the orchestra filled the Minskoff with onstage, surround sound, with the enhancement of clarinet solos and Nick Danielson's solo fiddle. The lovely and unusual effect of watching a full orchestra, off to stage right, showcased in ethereal lighting of shadows and silhouettes, was extremely special and a welcome change to the hidden orchestras of conventional productions.

There were several poignant scenes, with a few highlighted here: The Sabbath prayer scene, with tiny candles, an aesthetic potpourri of nature, light, evocative music, and culture; Tevye and Golde's Do You Love Me scene, in which they discover, after 25 years, that love is for them, too; and the train station scene, in which Tevye blesses Chava for the first time, since she ran off to marry the Russian soldier, Fyedka, thereby allowing Golde to find peace in their departure from Anatevka.

David Leveaux' production of Fiddler on the Roof has daring ideas and artistic nuances that define a new era in Broadway theatre. Kudos to Alfred Molina for warmth, humor, and, yes, restrained humility in his character. It is that critical, restrained humility that saved Tevye's family from brutal hostility from the Russian soldiers. Kudos to Randy Graff for Golde's very authentic mannerisms and characterizations. Kudos to Yusef Bulos as the ever-present and very nurturing Rabbi, to Stephen Lee Anderson as the tough but human Constable, to Nancy Opel as Yente, tenacious but dignified, to Sally Murphy as Tzeitel, the buoyant bride, to Laura Michele Kelly as Hodel, who travels to Siberia for her revolutionary husband, to Lea Michele as Chava, who treads on treacherous terrain, to David Wohl, the unlikable, portly butcher, Lazar Wolf, to John Cariani as Motel, the spastic and timid, but loving, tailor, to Robert Petkoff as Perchik, the insistent intellectual, to David Ayers, the dashing Russian, who gives up his nation's cause for his adored Chava, and to Nick Danielson as the Fiddler, for his extremely charismatic and musical interpretation of this pivotal and peripatetic role, along with exotic violin solos.

Kudos to the original team of Stein, Bock, Harnick, and Robbins, and to Sholom Aleichem for the original stories, on which Fiddler was based. And, kudos to the current team of Leveaux, Stites, Butterell, Pye, Mortimer, MacDevitt, and Brown for direction, musical directing and staging, sets, costumes, lighting, and wigs, as well as to ZFX, Inc., for a flying grandma and ghost. I recommend quickly ordering tickets to Fiddler on the Roof at the Minskoff, a must-see production, with imagination, imagery, and memorable music for audiences of all ages and cultures. It's a Miracle of Miracles.

Alfred Molina as Tevye
Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at