Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Fiddler on the Roof
With such an important subject at such an important time, Fiddler on the Roof deserves a first-rate production. I'm beyond pleased to report that this touring production–playing for a mere week at BroadwaySF's Golden Gate Theatre–is all that, and perhaps even a bit more.
The show is a marvel of dramatic structure. The opening number, "Tradition," not only establishes the scene, introducing us to Tevye, Golde, and their five daughters, plus the other residents of the little village of Anatevka, it also establishes one of the key themes of the musical: the clash of old and new, of tradition and modernity, and the challenges that come with it.
This clash is embodied by Tevye (an often blustery, but undeniably charming Jonathan Hashmonay), a poor dairy farmer trying–like the titular fiddler–to "scratch out a pleasant, simple tune - without breaking our necks." Tevye finds himself struggling to maintain his sense of himself as an observant Jew while also attempting to come to terms with the changes the outside world is slowly and inexorably bringing. Throughout the show, Tevye often airs his troubles to G_d, almost as if the Almighty were a therapist. "On the one hand," Tevye says when he approaches a problem–but then immediately follows this with "but on the other hand..." as he weighs how to deal with it all. His daughter Tzeitel (Leah Platt) is in love with the poor tailor Motel Kamzoil (Elliot Lazar), even though Yente (Mary Beth Webber), the local matchmaker, has arranged a marriage for her with the well-to-do butcher, Lazar Wolf (Andrew Hendrick). His second daughter Hodel (GraceAnn Kontak) has fallen for Perchik (Austin J. Gresham), a student newly arrived from Kyiv with ideas–such as the fact that "girls are people"–that have him labeled "a radical." That his third daughter, Chava (Yardén Barr), is being pursued by a gentile represents the biggest change for Tevye–and one for which his "on the other hand..." approach fails to change his heart.
Hashmonay is brilliant as Tevye, with sparkling eyes, a galumphing physicality, and a grumpy mien that inadequately conceals his giant heart. As Golde, Tevye's wife of 25 years, Maite Uzal adopts a care-worn look that is perfectly in sync with a character whose life is one of unending labor. She cleans, she bakes challah for the Sabbath, and she tries her best to keep her daughters in line and her family fed. She is, to use the Yiddish term for a woman who runs a home with efficiency and grace, a balabusta.
The uniformly excellent non-Equity cast has been directed with terrific verve by Bartlett Sher, based on his 2015 Broadway revival production. The movement and blocking is always motivated by both the story and emotions of each character. Sher has also done a fantastic job of using the physical placement of the actors to reinforce the culture and class structure of early 20th century Russia. There's a moment at the close of the number, "To Life" in which the Jews and Russians, who have been drinking and dancing together, end up on opposite sides of the stage–and pretty much everything else.
The dancing, by choreographer Christopher Evans, who has "re-created" the original choreography by Jerome Robbins, has a marvelous organic nature. It doesn't feel so much like rehearsed steps performed with precise unison as it does the natural outburst of humans moved by melody and rhythm.
In the clash between old and new, Tevye almost always–if sometimes reluctantly–ends up choosing the option that is motivated by love and parental care, tradition be damned, despite that opening number. "Our old ways were once new, weren't they?" he asks.
Whether it's in Anatevka in the early 1900s or today's San Francisco, Fiddler on the Roof shows us that, even though some things change, some things–like familial love, the pull of tradition, and, sadly, the cruelty of dictators–stay the same.
This production of Fiddler on the Roof is joyous, life-affirming, funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming–and most deserving of your presence. But remember, it's only here a week, so get your tickets before it takes its timely, important message to the next stop.
Fiddler on the Roof runs through March 26, 2023, at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $50 - $161. For tickets and information, please call 888-746-1799 or visit broadwaysf.com. For more information on the tour, visit fiddlermusical.com.