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The 'Fiddler' returns for its 50th

This is the final event -- some might even say the culminating event -- in the worldwide celebration of the 50th anniversary of Fiddler’s first Broadway performance in 1964.

Fiddler at 50 - 1

A new revival of Fiddler on the Roof -- the fifth -- opened on Broadway on Dec. 20. This is the final event -- some might even say the culminating event -- in the worldwide celebration of the 50th anniversary of Fiddler's first Broadway performance in 1964. So nu, what's new?

First of all, Fiddler on the Roof is indestructible. There is no way not to fall in love all over again the moment the Fiddler begins to play that haunting opening melody on his solo violin. Composer Jerry Bock -- who died in 2010 -- brought forth these 24 pure notes from the depths of our collective experience as Jews, and no matter how many times you hear the wordless "Fiddler's Theme" that opens and closes every performance, tears will spring to your eyes. (I say this as someone who has now seen over two dozen live performances of Fiddler on the Roof  of every size and scale in the past decade alone.)

But this Anatevka has an altogether very different feel than the one conjured up on Broadway for the 40th anniversary. In 2004, Tevye and his family lived at the edge of an elegant blue and beige birch forest, with actual musicians in the far right corner of the stage playing their instruments in a permanently star-filled twilight. The resulting air of melancholy has been replaced in 2015 with a robust, earthy look that provides a solid frame for the characters as the plot unfolds.

Most important, all the "buildings" -- like Tevye's house and Motel's tailor shop -- can be rolled offstage in an instant to make room for dancing. And wow, is there dancing!

Although the headliner is Danny Burstein as Tevye, the real star of this show is Hofesh Shechter. Born in Jerusalem in 1975, Shechter joined the Batsheva Dance Company at age 20 and quickly rose to become one of artistic director Ohad Naharin's go-to choreographers. 

Those of us who have attended one of Batsheva Dance Company's many Chicago performances know what to expect. There is nothing "delicate" about the Batsheva Dance Company style. It is ferocious, defiant and extremely athletic. Although he has clearly "based" his work on Jerome Robbins original choreography, Shechter transforms it into something entirely new. Do men still line up to do "The Bottle Dance" at Tzeitel's Wedding? Of course. Have they ever done it like this before? Never!

Unfortunately, there is a downside: Shechter's dances -- especially the dancing to To Life! in the tavern -- are literally show-stoppers, meaning they stop the dramatic action rather than enhance it. Some familiar elements have also been trimmed to accommodate them, which has a noticeable effect on the plot. The Rabbi no longer dances at Tzeitel's Wedding (which is always a crowd-pleaser). And Act Two's ethereal Little Chavele ballet is now a shadow of its former self, so what should be a profoundly human moment for Tevye as a father has been robbed of its power.

But these are the quibbles of someone who has made the analysis of subtle little Fiddler details her life's work. As I said at the beginning, Fiddler on the Roof is indestructible. Each new team must have the freedom to make its own creative decisions and find its own balance between the old and the new. Continuously updating "tradition" is exactly what keeps Fiddler on the Roof so fresh at fifty and beyond.

Fiddler on the Roof is now playing at the Broadway Theatre at 1681 Broadway (between 52nd and 53rd Streets). To order tickets, call the box office at (212) 239-6200, or visit the website: . (But if you are putting together a group, then contact .)

For more analysis of the good news/bad news aspects of this fifth Broadway revival, read a full review on my blog . Additional reviews of multiple Metro Chicago productions of Fiddler can also be found on my blog . And my new book, Diamond Fiddler: Lectures on Fiddler on the Roof will be published in May, timed to honor Sholem Aleichem's 100th yahrzeit .

Jan Lisa Huttner, the JUF's longtime Arts & Entertainment columnist, now lives in Brooklyn, where she continues to send us occasional features from The Big Apple. Jan's first book on Fiddler on the Roof - Tevye's Daughters: No Laughing Matter - is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as an eBook and/or Print on Demand.

Fiddler at 50 - 2 actual  

Top Photo: Alexandra Silber (Tzeitel), Danny Burstein (Tevye) and Adam Kantor (Motel)

Bottom Photo: Stephen Carrasco, Nick Rehberger, Aaron Young, Reed Luplau, Mitch Greenberg, Sarah Parker, Jesse Kovarsky, George Psomas, Eric Bourne and Marla Phelan (Dancers)

Photos by Joan Marcus


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